I don't know if Temple could beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium tonight if the Owls had all their bullets. I don't know how many teams in America could. It isn't like the Blue Devils have lost a whole lot of home games lately, especially against non-ACC opponents. That's just the reality. The Owls will be without starting forward Micheal Eric, who was just lost for the season with a knee injury. And they'll probably also be missing starting swingman Scootie Randall, who has a foot injury. They might be without him for awhile, too, which is obviously not a good thing heading into March. But the word is that the Owls will still show up and presumably give it their best shot. I wouldn't expect anything less from a Fran Dunphy team. But even at full strength, it might have been asking a lot to beat the defending national champions/new No. 1 on the road, particularly at this point in the season.
I do know this, though: having a game like this at this time can't hurt the Owls. Not in the least. Even if they end up losing by double digits. It's Duke, away. That certainly can't hurt the old RPI. And the Owls, who could keep it close, will probably learn something about themselves when it matters most. As tests go, this is about as staunch as it gets. If the Owls are going to make a run in the Madness, sooner or later they're going to have to beat a team that's at least close to Duke on the caliber scale. The Owls have lost at Villanova and at Xavier. The NCAA Tournament is all about hostile. So anything else that can help them prepare for that should be welcome. Because, to be honest, there's not a whole lot in the Atlantic 10 that can get them ready.
It has to be encouraging for Dunphy that Juan Fernandez, who has struggled with injuries and his shot through much of January and early February, has started to look better at just the right time. He hasn't had a turnover in the last three games, which included a big home win over Richmond last week and a key road win at Dayton before that. I don't know if the Owls are going to four-peat as A-10 champs, and I don't even know how relevant that is to the overall other than the fact that it would be an historic accomplishment for Lavoy Allen. What we've been saying all along still holds true. This group will be judged by what it does or doesn't do in the NCAAs. That's what happens when you go one-and-done three consecutive years, which of course included last March's double-digit loss to No. 12 seed Cornell.
Yes, this team is now playing shorthanded. But it still has some serious pieces. Allen is a defensive presence unlike many others, and is capable of throwing up a 15-point, 12-rebound effort at any moment. Fernandez is rounding into his old form, and top scorer Ramone Moore can be a force. What these Owls are going to need are contributions from Randall, if he's back, and guys like Rahlir Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt. Even freshman Aaron Brown and T.J. DiLeo will be asked to do more. It has to be a group effort.
Yes, playing Duke represents a monsterous opportunity. But whatever happens, the season doesn't end with this game. Just keep that in mind. Just playing the Dookies may actually pay dividends in another three weeks or so.