So, can Temple win a fourth consecutive Atlantic 10 title? And/or an NCAA game for the first time since John Chaney’s last Final Eight run a decade ago?
We’ll find out soon enough. But whatever happens, I sure would have liked to have seen what Fran Dunphy’s Owls would have been capable of had they not lost starting forward Micheal Eric with a knee injury, and starting swingman Scootie Randall to a foot issue.
And I’m hardly the only one.
Randall might be back. And even if he is, who knows how effective he’ll be? Eric’s next game will be next season. It’s unfortunate, but it happens. You deal with it and move on. Dunphy wouldn’t have it any other way. There will be no excuses. Still, it’s obviously a mitigating circumstance.
Nobody said it has to be fair.
But what’s clear to me watching the Owls play without those two is just how well Dunphy has them prepared anyway. Even at Duke, they hung in there for a half, using a lineup that at times included three sophomores and a freshman. And they were getting backdoor layups. Hard to do in a lot of places, let alone Cameron Indoor.
Yes, they struggled in the first half at George Washington, and needed overtime to win at Massachusetts. Yet they’re finding ways to get it done. Lavoy Allen is starting to step it up. I hate that phrase, but it’s really the best description. He’s been a remarkable player, but now he’s really starting to show just how special he is, when it counts most. And Juan Fernandez once again resembles the guy who looked so good last season. If the two of them and Ramone Moore can all play well together, the Owls have a shot against just about anyone. Especially if they get contributions from the “role” pieces like Rhalir Jefferson, Khalif Wyatt and Aaron Brown, even seventh man T.J. DiLeo.
The margin for error has obviously shrunk. But if they can stay out of foul trouble, you know they’re going to play defense. That will keep you in a lot of games all by itself.
I don’t know where they’re going to be seeded in the Madness, or who they’ll be matched up against. But that’s getting ahead of the storyline. First they’ll have to deal with most likely Richmond and Xavier if they’re going to bring home another trophy from Atlantic City. That would be an incredible achievement. But the reality is, regardless of what goes down at the Jersey Shore, everyone wants to find out if they can finally advance past the first round of the 68-team field.
Maybe the body shortage will mean there’s less pressure. I still think I’d rather have all my bullets. The last three years, for whatever reasons, the Owls just haven’t played well enough once they got there. When you’re a 12 seed or an 11, you’re not supposed to win. When you’re a 5, it’s different. It doesn’t matter that Cornell was a bad draw, when you lose by double digits. But that’s the past. Most folks will be pulling for Dunphy, just because.
It’s not supposed to be easy. The injuries make it harder, not impossible.
See you on Selection Sunday.