This is not the way the season was supposed to go for Temple's basketball team. Not necessarily in terms of the record, which at 8-3 is probably within about a win or so of what it figured to be heading into last Friday night's game at young but improving Delaware. It's more about how the Owls have gotten to this point.
They've had to proceed without one of their four projected senior starters, swingman Scottie Randall, for the entirety. And now it appears, as some had thought might happen after he injured his knee in the summer, that he's leaning toward redshirting and coming back next season, when West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper was expected to take over his spot in the lineup.
But if the Owls have learned anything from this ride, it's that you can never have enough capable bodies.
That's because Micheal Eric, their most reliable big man, also has been sidelined for a month after reinjuring his right knee, which kept him out the final month of last season. The good news is he seems to be making progress in his rehabilitation and could be back before the end of January. Without him, the Owls obviously are forced to rely much more on small ball. Fortunately for them, they still have some really talented perimeter players to handle that. Nonetheless, at some point you can do only so much when you're missing too many bullets. Nobody said it has to be fair. And nobody understands that more than coach Fran Dunphy, who never has looked for excuses.
The Owls beat Penn State at the buzzer in the NCAA Tournament minus those same two, their first Madness win in a decade, before losing in double-overtime in the next round to second-seeded San Diego State. That team, of course, had Lavoy Allen, an absolute rock in the middle. But the point is, mostly the same cast managed to deal with those manpower issues as best it could. There's no reason to think the Owls are not up to doing it again. And don't forget that Randall had evolved into one of their top weapons before he hurt his foot in late February, just a few days after Eric went down.
If we assume Randall is indeed gone for the duration, a lot then definitely depends on Eric's status. If Temple gets him back at relatively close to what he was, it gives the Owls an essential boost in the area where they're most vulnerable. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who's really a small forward, has been giving them everything he has and more. But he needs help, and freshman Anthony Lee - whose layup beat Buffalo in OT on Wednesday - is still getting acclimated to the college game.
At the moment this group isn't properly equipped to take on the heavyweights on the schedule. And with Duke coming into South Philly this Wednesday, well, it makes a difference. At full strength, these guys were picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 behind Xavier. And many folks thought they might have the makings of maybe a Sweet 16 kind of run. They still might. But it looks as if they will have to do it at least a little shorthanded.
Dunphy's teams always get better late. You can look it up. And his Owls haven't lost on North Broad in more than 2 years. That doesn't hurt. A lot of teams would love to have someone like Khalif Wyatt to move into the starter's role. Or an Aaron Brown coming off the bench. It just means their depth gets compromised. But Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez, as long as they avoid foul trouble, will play a bunch of minutes anyway. And when they're right, they're one of the best backcourts anywhere. And both have demonstrated an ability to rise to the moment.
A season that shaped up as being something special has taken a detour. That doesn't mean it's over. Even though they're not whole, the Owls remain very much a factor. As long as there are games to play and goals out there to pursue, they will show up for all their worth. In that regard, nothing's changed.