Josh Brown

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

Experienced Temple aims for return to NCAA Tournament

After last year’s disappointing season in which Temple’s young roster failed to win a game in the AAC Tournament and ultimately was sent home early without a postseason berth of any kind, the Owls, led by their two senior captains Josh Brown and Obi Enechionyia, are aiming for an NCAA Tournament run this go around.

Now in his fifth year, Brown returns as the team’s lead guard after an Achilles tendon injury limited him to just five games last season, while Enechionyia comes back as the Owls' top frontcourt option after withdrawing from the NBA draft last May.

Enechionyia, who averaged 13.1 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, has been a matchup problem for teams in recent years because of his shooting ability as a big man and length on both ends of the floor. But head coach Fran Dunphy praised Enechionyia's evolution into a complete player this offseason.

“I think Obi’s getting better each and every day,” Dunphy said. “Obviously, they are gonna guard him to shoot the jump shot and now he has to attack the closeout, as it were. So, if the guy is hanging on his right side, he has to shot fake and pull through and get the gap. Maybe he’s pulling up for a quick jumper or maybe he’s kicking it to the other side of the floor, a little drive and kick stuff. He can always defend and rebound better, too, and I think that’s the next charge for him — to make a statement, not only shooting the basketball but at the other end of the floor.”

While Brown and Enechionyia are the unquestioned leaders, this Temple team doesn’t lack experience. Junior guard Shizz Alston, Jr. and sophomore guards Alani Moore and Quinton Rose were thrown into the fire in Brown’s absence, playing 36.4, 25.8 and 24.8 minutes per game, respectively, last season.

“It was really important [getting minutes last year],” Rose said. “I’m coming into this season really comfortable because I played in the beginning, middle and end of games last year. I think it’s really important that I’m going into this year with a little experience, more experience than most [sophomores].”

Rose was also able to gain valuable experience in his freshman season by talking to and learning from Brown, who was his roommate during road trips.

“He would just tell me stuff, get my head on straight and get me prepared for games, so that was good,” Rose said. “But this year, he’s doing a great job leading the guys, making sure we go hard, making sure we’re on time with things, early in fact, and just handling our business. He’s a really good leader.”

With depth at guard, Dunphy can allow the four freshmen on the team, whom he described as “great," to develop, though he will likely give them game opportunities. This year, the Owls will often play four guards on the floor at the same time to capitalize on their passing ability and athleticism, which will cause mismatches across the board.

“I think we have a lot of guards that can get out and run and play more than one position,” Rose said. “For myself, I think in the four-guard rotation, I’m the four-man guard and I think that’s a mismatch more times than not.”

“We just have a lot of selfless guys,” Brown said. “They love to share the ball and it makes their job easier, it makes everybody’s job easier when the ball is moving side to side and the defense can’t really react to the moves. We understand that and it’s helping us along the way. Now we just need to learn how to sometimes be selfish. Once we learn that we’re going to be a pretty solid offensive team.”

The experience will come in handy this season in a talented American Athletic Conference that just added No. 7 Wichita State and also features No. 12 Cincinnati. Temple hosts Wichita State on Feb. 1 and travels to play the Shockers on Feb. 15, while it plays the Bearcats at home on Jan. 4 and journeys to Cincy on Feb. 15.

The Owls also play a string of marquee matchups at home early in the season, facing Wisconsin on Dec. 6, St. Joe’s on Dec. 9 and No. 6 Villanova on Dec. 13.

The one thing Dunphy and multiple players emphasized needing to improve upon before the regular season begins this coming Thursday vs. Old Dominion in the Charleston Classic was team defense. Dunphy focused on the team’s communication, weak-side help and denial of second-chance opportunities, while Brown pinpointed help defense and consistency as areas of improvement.

“We want to win as many games as possible," Brown said. "From there, hopefully, we get into the tournament and make a special run. We know what it takes, it’s an everyday process so we’re trying to approach every day like that.”

Temple at a glance

Head coach: Fran Dunphy (12th season at Temple, 29th overall)

Last year: 16-16, 7-11 in AAC (finished eighth in AAC regular season standings, lost 80-69 in first round of AAC Tournament to East Carolina)

Top returners: G Josh Brown, F Obi Enechionyia, G Shizz Alston Jr.

Key losses: G/F Daniel Dingle, F Mark Williams

Impact newcomers: G Nate Pierre-Louis, F De’Vondre Perry, F J.P. Moorman II, F Justyn Hamilton

Games to watch: Dec. 6 vs. Wisconsin, Dec. 9 vs Saint Joseph’s, Dec. 13 vs. No. 6 Villanova, Jan. 24 at No. 12 Cincinnati, Feb. 15 at No. 7 Wichita State

Best-case scenario: Brown returns to pre-injury form and spearheads Temple’s deep backcourt, while Enechionyia provides inside scoring and defensive threats to make the Owls competitive again in the talented AAC. The two senior captains lead Temple back to the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Worst-case scenario: Brown’s injury lingers and Temple’s young guards can’t handle the tough AAC competition, while Enechionyia struggles as a top scoring option and the Owls fail to make the Big Dance for the second straight year.

10 most important Big 5 players this season

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10 most important Big 5 players this season

The college basketball season starts Friday and there is no shortage of storylines in the Big 5. 

Villanova is once again the team to beat in the Big East and a legitimate national championship contender.

Saint Joseph's should be a big factor in the Atlantic 10 race if the Hawks can avoid the injury bug, something they failed to do last season and are struggling with already this year.

Temple and La Salle aim to rebound from lackluster seasons, while Penn has the talent to return to the top of the Ivy League standings.

Coaches tend to get the bulk of the attention in college basketball but it's the players who ultimately decide the outcome of a season. Here is a list of 10 players to watch in the Big 5 — not necessarily the best players in the city, but guys who will have the biggest impact in determining their team's level of success this winter.

1. Jalen Brunson (junior guard, Villanova)
The first name on this list just so happens to be the best player in the city. Brunson enters his junior year at Villanova as a first team preseason All-American, preseason Big East Player of the Year, and arguably the best point guard in the country. He's on track to graduate early in the spring so chances are this will be his final season with the Wildcats. The NBA awaits for Brunson, who has lived up to the lofty expectations placed on him when he arrived at Villanova three years ago. He has the rare ability to take over a game single-handedly while also elevating the play of his teammates. Brunson will be counted on for more scoring and an increased leadership role this season — things that come naturally for a player who is poised to put together one of the finest seasons in school history.

2. Charlie Brown (sophomore forward, Saint Joseph's)
As Brown goes, so goes St. Joe's. His sophomore year got off to an unfortunate start — a preseason wrist injury put his status at the beginning of the season in question. But when he's healthy, Brown is a flat out difference-maker — a silky smooth wing who should take a sizable leap during his second season on Hawk Hill. That's saying something considering how good Brown was as a freshman. He is an NBA-level talent who will be a force in the Atlantic 10, a player capable of carrying St. Joe's back to the NCAA Tournament. 

3. AJ Brodeur (sophomore forward, Penn)
Brodeur has a chance to be not only one of the best players ever to play at Penn but also one of the best players in Ivy League history as well. If his freshman season was any indication, big things are in store over the next three years. He led the Quakers in scoring and rebounding as a freshman and set a program record with 66 blocked shots. You don't typically see a player as talented as Brodeur in the Ivy League. He could play and succeed in any conference. In fact, he turned down offers from Notre Dame and Boston College coming out of high school. Brodeur is the type of player who should lead Penn to accomplishments that were routine for the Quakers not too long ago — Ivy League championships and trips to the NCAA Tournament. 

4. Josh Brown (senior guard, Temple)
Last season was beyond frustrating for Brown, who tore his Achilles tendon in May 2016 and worked his way back to action for a handful of games before being shut down for the remainder of the season. Temple struggled without its floor general — Brown is the type of point guard who keeps the Owls organized on both ends of the floor. He now has a clean bill of health and is aiming to finish out his career on North Broad Street on a winning note. Temple has the talent to compete for an AAC title. It will be up to Brown to lead them in that direction.

5. Donte DiVincenzo (sophomore guard, Villanova)
DiVincenzo is my choice for Big 5 breakout player of the year if there was such an award. His coach, Jay Wright, compared him to Josh Hart last season, which qualifies as high praise. With Hart now in the NBA, DiVincenzo has the opportunity to develop into one of the best players in all of college basketball. He certainly has the talent. He's a tremendous athlete with a well-rounded offensive skill set and the potential to be a lockdown perimeter defender. He was arguably Villanova's best player in the NCAA Tournament last year. Expect that upward trajectory to carry over into his sophomore season. 

6. B.J. Johnson (senior guard, La Salle)
Johnson was as good as advertised in his first season at La Salle after transferring from Syracuse, averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds as a junior. He'll look to continue that production in his final collegiate season, but more importantly he'll try to pile up more wins for the Explorers following last season's 15-15 finish that included a 9-9 mark in A-10 play. La Salle has the requisite offensive firepower with Johnson, Pookie Powell and Amar Stukes leading the way. But it's on Johnson to lead them in a way that translates into more victories.    

7. Omari Spellman (freshman forward, Villanova)
Spellman makes his much anticipated Villanova debut after being ruled academically ineligible last season. That ruling hurt the Wildcats on the floor last year but could end up being a blessing in disguise in terms of Spellman's long-term development. He used the last 12 months to shed 40 pounds while familiarizing himself with how the Villanova program operates. He should be very comfortable stepping into a critical role for the Wildcats this season. Spellman has the ability to be one of the best post players to ever play for Jay Wright. He is ultra talented on the low block, able to shoot the three-pointer and will serve as the backbone of the Wildcats' interior defense. The combination of Spellman inside and Villanova's arsenal of perimeter weapons spells trouble for opponents this season. 

8. Shavar Newkirk (senior guard, Saint Joseph's)
Newkirk went down with a season-ending knee injury last year after just 12 games. He was averaging more than 20 points at the time of the injury and the Hawks were never able to recover from his absence. They were 7-5 at the time of Newkirk's injury then proceeded to go 4-15 without him. Newkirk still isn't 100 percent healthy — rehabbing a torn ACL tends to take more than a calendar year. But he should be back in the Hawks' lineup sooner rather than later, possibly as early as Saturday's season-opener against Toledo. Expect him to slowly regain his confidence and explosiveness and eventually return to form as one of the top lead guards in the Atlantic 10. 

9. Ryan Betley (sophomore guard, Penn)
A broken hand forced Betley to miss the first month of his freshman year but by the time last season ended he had established himself as Penn's second-best player behind Brodeur. Betley finished the season by scoring in double figures in eight straight games, averaging just under 18 points during that span. He has a killer instinct that his coach, Steve Donahue, values in his players. Combine that with his skills on the perimeter and Betley should be in contention for First Team All-Ivy honors.  

10. Obi Enechionyia (senior forward, Temple)
No player is more critical to Temple's success than Enechionyia, who is extremely talented but hasn't been able to put it all together to this point in his career. He'll get one last shot this year at developing into the consistent offensive force the Owls need him to be. There aren't many players in college basketball with Enechionyia's skill set — he's 6-foot-10 with the ability to play on the perimeter and knock down threes. But after a promising start to his junior season, he slumped during the critical months of January and February. Consistency is the key for Enechionyia for his final season in a Temple uniform. 

Honorable Mention
Mikal Bridges, Pookie Powell, Shizz Alston, Lamarr Kimble, Phil Booth, Antonio Woods, Eric Paschall, Amar Stukes

Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

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Return of leader Josh Brown gives Temple backcourt depth to strike back

When fifth-year senior guard Josh Brown tore his Achilles tendon in late May 2016, it dealt a huge blow to the Owls’ 2017 NCAA Tournament chances.

Brown, who led the AAC with 36.2 minutes per game as Temple’s primary ball handler in 2015-16, underwent surgery on May 25 and came back for five games early in the year. But after a 78-57 loss at Villanova in mid-December, Brown was ruled out for the rest of the season.

The loss of the Owls’ backcourt leader put their young guards in a tough position, thrusting them into the spotlight without much experience. Although they acquitted themselves well, Temple had a disappointing season, finishing 16-16 and losing in the first round of the AAC Tournament to East Carolina.

The Owls did not advance to a postseason tournament and missed the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years.

However, with Brown returning for his fifth year after being granted a medical redshirt, the Owls' glaring weakness from last year is now their greatest strength.

“The [guard] rotation is going to be interesting for us,” head coach Fran Dunphy said. “We’ll probably play four guards a number of times because we have an abundance of guys that want to be out there and need to be out there on the court. We have a bunch of guys that are ready to go. Again, as our preseason stuff has been working, it’s been the competitiveness that has been terrific.”

Junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. will be a big part of that rotation. After Brown was lost for the season in 2016-17, Alston became Temple’s primary ball handler as a sophomore with little experience.

He had to average 36.4 minutes per game and responded well, leading the team with 13.9 points and 4.1 assists per game.

“His mindset is totally different,” Brown said about Alston. “Going from his freshman year to his sophomore year, he was thrown into the fire and I thought he did a pretty good job, you know. Now, with all that experience he has on the court, I think he’s ready to take that next step and be a consistent scorer and a be a consistent guy on defense and be a consistent guy that we can all lean on.”

Sophomores Quinton Rose and Alani Moore had to make up for the absence of Brown, as well, averaging 24.8 and 25.8 minutes per game last year, respectively. Moore, a starter in his freshman year, likely will come off the bench this season, which is a true testament to the amount of depth the Owls have in the backcourt.

Moore’s offensive versatility, which allows him to bring the ball up in certain situations and play on the wing, as well, will be very important if the Owls want to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

“You can let other guys bring it up and have others guys do other things on the court, so it helps out a great deal,” Brown said. “It opens up everybody’s game. Like Alani Moore, he’s a point guard, but he’s also a great shooter, so he can spot up from time to time and things like that.”

“Alani and Q aren’t your average sophomores,” Alston added. “We played almost the same amount of minutes [last year] and I’m a junior, so they’re very veteran guys already.”

Players have also been raving about the talent and competitiveness that freshmen guards/wings Nate Pierre-Louis, J.P. Moorman and De’vondre Perry have shown throughout the offseason and preseason.

“It’s amazing, I’ve never seen freshmen this ready to play,” Alston said. “J.P. can bring the ball up, ‘Dre can bring the ball up, even Nate sometimes, so it’ll help us a lot.”

When you factor Trey Lowe, a redshirt sophomore guard who missed all of last season as he has been recovering from a February 2016 car accident and could return later this season, into the equation, the Owls have an incredibly deep and versatile backcourt.

The last time the Owls made it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament was in 2001 when they lost to Michigan State in the Elite Eight. According to Alston, immediately after the Owls were bounced from the AAC Tournament last year, they talked about their potential to make a run.

“We see teams like South Carolina go all the way, teams similar to ourselves that are not the big blood teams like Kentucky or Duke,” Alston said. “We think we can make it to the second round, third round or as far as we want.”

If they’re going to do it, their veteran backcourt will be the reason why.