Fran Dunphy admits that this season is shaping up to be his most difficult at Temple since the Big 5's dean of coaches succeeded John Chaney seven years ago. He has good reason to say that.

It was always going to be hard for the Owls to replace the five players who graduated last spring. Khalif Wyatt, T.J. DiLeo, Jake O'Brien, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Scootie Randall contributed a combined average of 52.9 points, 12.8 assists and 20.5 rebounds per game.

Just as importantly, those players took up a combined average of 139.3 minutes per game out of the 200 available in each contest.

Adding to the burden on Dunphy's shoulders is the harsh schedule he has to face in the first year of the American Athletic Conference. Though the Atlantic 10 always gave Temple a stiff challenge, the AAC will set the Owls against perennial powerhouses Louisville, Connecticut, Memphis and Cincinnati.

There are also long road trips to Dallas, Houston, Tampa and Orlando. That's a far cry from taking buses to New York, Washington and other parts of the Northeast.

But Dunphy is no stranger to playing tough schedules. His Temple teams have always played big non-conference contests, both at home and away.

So while the road ahead may be steep, Dunphy is ready to start climbing.

"I think each year brings on a new challenge for you," he said Monday at Temple's media day. "You just go about your business - I just want to coach basketball and try to get kids to make good decisions."

He will do with a team that features one senior, four juniors and three sophomores, as well as two freshmen. The squad has spent plenty of time on North Broad Street, but not too much on the court.

Or, as Dunphy put it: "We're not as young as we are inexperienced."

The veteran presence will come mainly from three players: guard Will Cummings, swingman Dalton Pepper and big man Anthony Lee.

Lee will likely draw the biggest spotlight, as he was a key player in Temple's NCAA tournament run last season. It included a memorable win over N.C. State, but also a memorable loss to Indiana.

Unfortunately for Lee, he plays a major role in Owls fans' memories of the latter game. The 6-foot-9 junior missed a close-range shot attempt that would have given Temple a four-point lead over the No. 1-seed Hoosiers with just over two minutes remaining. Indiana took control of the game from there, and eventually sent the Owls home.

Dunphy said Lee put in a strong summer, and has shown in the preseason that he's ready to play a leading role. But Dunphy also acknowledged that Lee's offensive play still hasn't quite caught up to his excellent defense.

In a recent closed-door scrimmage against Penn State, for example, Lee had 15 defensive rebounds and no offensive rebounds.

Lee took note of those numbers - and Dunphy took note of what he saw as Lee's lack of effort to get the ball from the offensive glass.

"Before you can get them, you've got to attempt them," Dunphy said. "His attempts have got to go up a little bit, and he'll get his share of offensive rebounds."

As for players expected to step up, the top candidates are sophomore guards Quenton DeCosey and Daniel Dingle. Both had up-and-down rides as freshmen. At times they showed great potential, and at times they showed an eternal truth: almost every freshman in college basketball needs time to adjust to the jump from high school to the next level.

Dunphy praised Dingle for putting in the extra work necessary to be ready for a strong second season.

"He may have said to himself that he didn't play that well against Penn State, but I mentioned to him, 'Why were you in here Saturday night after the Penn State scrimmage?'" Dunphy said, "He said, 'How'd you know?'"

With perfect comedic timing, Dunphy responded: "I know everything."

Not surprisingly, Dunphy had come in to his office as well.

"I snuck into my office and had the blinds down and heard the ball bounce, and pulled the curtain up, and there's Dan Dingle," Dunphy said. "If you had said to me that there was going to be someone in here after the scrimmage getting up jump shots, I would say it was Dan Dingle. Nobody's going to work harder, nobody knows the game as well, nobody is as good a human being or as good a teammate as him."

As with so many Dunphy anecdotes, there was a lesson at the end.

"Now he has to have the requisite poise out there on the court so that he gets the most minutes played," he concluded.

When DeCosey was asked what Dunphy expects of him this season, he did not mince words.

"He told me I'm going to have to step up," DeCosey said. "We lost five seniors, so somebody has to pick up the scoring, and that's what I'm going to do this year."

Though Dunphy has not historically played his freshmen too much, guard Josh Brown arrives on North Broad Street with justifiable fanfare. A product of famed St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City, N.J., Brown drew praise from Dunphy for his strong work ethic.

"I think the best feature to his game is his competitiveness," Dunphy said. "He takes no possessions off, and I think that's a great credit to him as a player, but also to coach [Bobby] Hurley... I often find myself saying I'm going to correct Josh Brown on this particular play, and then I say to myself, 'Well, how would coach Hurley have told him to do it?' I don't want to interrupt that, because it's probably better than what I've told him."

Overall, Dunphy said his rotation of key players is "starting to be set." A summer trip to France and Italy helped in that regard, as it allowed the Owls to spend 10 days together building chemistry.

"For a 'new' team, we've been together a lot," Dunphy said.

And while Dunphy still has some decisions to make, he said that when crunch time comes, "the best five players are going to be out on the court."

Crunch time arrives on November 9, when Temple heads across town to face Penn at the Palestra. For as much as Dunphy cherishes the Palestra and the Big 5, it is a matchup that he annually dreads. Penn is, after all, the place where Dunphy made his name as a head coach. And his opposite number, Jerome Allen, was the star of the best years of Dunphy's 17 seasons on 33rd Street.

"The game against Penn is the [Big 5 game] that if you said to me you didn't have to play one, I'd probably choose them, for a lot of different [and] obvious reasons," Dunphy said. "So that's really a challenge - but that's on me, that's not necessarily on our players."

Given the lack of experience playing together that Dunphy's roster has, it might benefit the Owls to have a lower-profile game to start the season. Any Big 5 game, even against Penn, naturally draws a spotlight. With this game starting a new City Series round-robin - and with Temple alum Bill Cosby performing after the game ends - the buzz will be even bigger than usual.

But Dunphy believes his team will be ready for the occasion.

"We'll have a sense of who we are, so we shouldn't be surprised by what it is that we see," he said.

Dunphy has shown a relentless commitment to preparation over his 24 years as a Big 5 head coach. Though his 25th season will be unlike anything he's seen before, it's no surprise to hear he's handling it in the same way as all the others.