Last season Temple was the regular-season champion in the American Athletic Conference, going 14-4. This year, after an encouraging 9-4 nonconference record that included wins over ranked Florida State and West Virginia, Temple has gotten off to a rough start in the AAC.
The Owls will try to end a three-game slide, all against AAC opponents, when they host East Carolina at noon Saturday at the Liacouras Center.
At 9-7 overall and 0-3 in the AAC, the Owls are looking to avoid their first four-game losing streak in nearly two years.
"I view every game as a must game but this certainly is," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said Friday.
That is because it comes against an East Carolina team that is 9-7, 1-2 and coming off a tough 48-45 loss at Central Florida. The Pirates are last in the AAC in scoring (63.1 points per game) but third in scoring defense (60.7 ppg).
A key ECU addition has been 7-foot-1 graduate student Andre Washington, a transfer from Wake Forest. He is averaging 2.8 blocked shots per game.
"The kid Andre Washington has been a great rim protector for them," Dunphy said.
Temple, which is coming off a 79-65 loss Wednesday at SMU, fell to three strong AAC teams. The other losses were 56-50 to visiting Cincinnati and, in the Owls' worst game of the season, 77-53 last Saturday at Central Florida in a game they trailed, 38-11, at the half.
Cincinnati and SMU are the main AAC contenders, while Central Florida is vastly improved.
Still, Temple can't fall much farther before facing the prospect of needing to win the conference tournament in order to make a repeat appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Dunphy isn't thinking that far ahead. He's just looking for improvement.
Point guard Josh Brown has been out with Achilles soreness since playing Dec. 13 at Villanova. If Brown does return, he would give up the chance to earn a medical hardship at this point of the season.
Dunphy said that the only concern is for Brown to be feeling better and that he's not close to being ready.
One reason for slight optimism is that 6-foot-10 junior Obi Enechionyia snapped out of a slump with 16 points against SMU, hitting 4 of 9 from beyond the arc. Enechionyia, averaging a team-high 14.8 points, had scored a total of 14 points in his previous three games.
"He certainly was in a little bit of a struggle and seems to be coming out of it," Dunphy said.
Another player to watch is 6-11 freshman Damion Moore, who had five points and a career-high seven rebounds in just 11 minutes against SMU.