If you saw Temple’s basketball struggles coming a month ago, well, good for you. The Owls were rolling, beating teams such as Clemson and Auburn in November. Neither of those two has lost to anybody but Temple, and both are in the top 20.
All that might as well have been a different season, given Temple’s recent freefall, which now includes five straight losses, in all shapes and sizes, including four to start play in the American Athletic Conference.
In late December, I wasn’t quite ready to declare Temple better than an NCAA bubble team since Clemson and Auburn weren’t picked to finish in the top half of their leagues. It turns out, however, those teams are better than expected. It’s Temple that has all the issues.
Sunday’s game at Central Florida was rock bottom. The Owls’ portion of the box score looks like an early partial — that can’t be the whole game. Five starters combined for 14 points in a cumulative 138 minutes? OK, shots weren’t falling. Those five season-long starters, the same group that led Temple past Clemson and Auburn, got to the foul line zero times? As a team, Temple shot only one free throw, so we’ve got to congratulate freshman guard Nate Pierre-Louis for taking it and making it. Pierre-Louis also was the only Temple scorer in double figures, with 13 points.
The 60-39 loss was especially hard to watch since Temple had led, 17-11. Sometimes, Temple seemed to be trying too hard to make a play, which resulted more in turnovers than anything else, 18 by the end. There also was too much ball-watching. The 4-for-22 three-point shooting wasn’t just the result of jacking up shots indiscriminately. Of Temple’s first 12 misses, 11 came after running at least 16 seconds of offense. The issues seemed to vary from play to play, which is what happens when there is a crisis of confidence.
More City Six observations from the week:
(2) The best week had to belong to St. Joseph’s. In need of a pick-me-up, the Hawks got it with Ws over Atlantic Ten contenders VCU and St. Bonaventure. James Demery continued his increased production. The senior, with a team-leading 17.4 points a game, had 24 against the Bonnies.
(3) Or maybe, in the grand scheme of things, the best week belonged to Penn, since a W over Princeton is eventful by definition. The Quakers broke an eight-game losing streak to the Tigers and looked primed to return to the four-team Ivy League playoffs, which will return to the Palestra in the second season of the format.
(4) Which brings up something I’m still shocked about: that the rest of the Ivy schools agreed to have the men’s and women’s tournaments at the Palestra again. Princeton coaches can’t love it. The Quakers are good enough to win two games in two days, so the slight advantage of being at home becomes not so slight given the stakes.
(5) Postgame, Quakers coach Steve Donahue mentioned an interesting stat, bringing up how no Penn starters finish possessions more than 23.6 percent of the time, according to usage stats at kenpom.com. The point? It’s pretty much an equal-opportunity offense, with the ball spreading around among all five players.
(6) Villanova is back to No. 1 in the national rankings. I’m not a voter but I’d have gone with West Virginia, which has Ws over Virginia and Oklahoma. Either vote has merit. Villanova got 52 first-place votes to 12 for WVU.
(7) While everybody is smartly focusing on the great seasons of Villanova’s Jalen Brunson (first-team all-American, at this point) and Mikal Bridges (some kind of all-American), guard Phil Booth, back from injury, is another difference-maker. Booth’s overall offensive rating (as calculated by Ken Pomeroy) is 28th in the nation. (Brunson is second, and first among players who end up with the ball in their hands at the end of more than 10 percent of possessions.)
(8) La Salle almost sent VCU out of town with two Philly losses, but the Explorers couldn’t quite close the deal. One reason: La Salle has improved its defense this season — its field-goal percentage defense has gone from 46.7 to 44.5 — but the Explorers still are struggling to defend the three, giving up 38.6 percent, worst in the A-10.
(9) If you showed up at the DAC on Sunday, you saw the ups and downs of the 2017-18 Drexel Dragons first hand. You saw how they have beaten Houston, La Salle and College of Charleston, showing strong ball movement early against William and Mary, going up by 23-14 against the Colonial Athletic Association leaders. Once,W&M got its break going, life changed for the Dragons, which ultimately fell to 7-10 with an 85-63 defeat.
One bottom line for Drexel: The Dragons already have shown enough to tell recruits the program is on the upswing. That seemed like a big bottom line for this season.
(10) Favorite ref baiting? One Penn fan Saturday was not impressed with an offensive foul call against the Quakers: “This is West Philadelphia. You can’t call that foul in West Philadelphia.”