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.