Obi Enechionyia (above) and Temple are beginning their season six days later than most of the college hoops world. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
The first couple days of the college basketball season are a holiday for all involved in the sport, all the talk of the offseason finally coming to fruition in actual, meaningful basketball games. All around the country, teams were having their first jump balls, their first points, their first timeout, their first post-game chat.
Except, so far, for Temple.
The Owls’ players spent the opening weekend of the college basketball season as spectators, their season starting six days later than almost everybody else. Ernest Aflakpui watched on ESPN as former AAU teammate Quade Green and Kentucky held off Vermont on Sunday afternoon. Josh Brown caught some games involving former players he saw in his prep days in New Jersey over the course of the weekend. Obi Enechionyia spent Saturday seeing his brother Nnamdi, now at Saint Peter’s, play in college for the first time in a game at La Salle.
“It was frustrating at times, not being able to play,” Enechionyia said, “but it was great to watch the games.”
Only seven Division I teams didn’t have a game on their schedule over the first weekend of the 2017-18 season. Two of those seven, Florida and UC Davis, both play Monday night. Florida State gets underway Tuesday, as do Green Bay and Northern Illinois. Manhattan plays its season opener on Wednesday night, hosting St. Francis (Brooklyn).
That leaves just Fran Dunphy and his Owls as the final team to begin the year, which they’ll finally do on Thursday afternoon when they play Old Dominion in the quarterfinals of the Charleston Classic (1:30 PM, ESPN3). Auburn or Indiana State await in Friday’s semifinals/consolation; the tournament concludes on Sunday.
A grand total of 431 games involving at least Division I teams will be played before Temple tips off. That’s not how Dunphy wanted it, but it’s the reality of this season.
“It would be better if we were playing a regular-season game this weekend,” Dunphy said after Temple’s only public action thus far, an exhibition game against Jefferson last Thursday. “It’s what we tried to do, it just didn’t work out for us. We’re going to have to just deal with it.”
Like his players, Dunphy spent the weekend tuning in to see what was going on in the college basketball landscape.
“I don’t know that I necessarily watched a game in full,” said the Big 5 legend, about to begin his 30th season as a head coach in Philly and 13th at Temple after 17 at Penn. “Just watched some teams play and some shots that went up, some strategies that were used. Typical early-season games going on, people just trying to find their way.”
By the time Temple faces ODU, the Monarchs will be playing their third game of the season. They already beat Towson, 57-54 on Friday night, and play James Madison on Monday.
Temple has played two closed-door scrimmages and the one public exhibition, a 70-60 win over the Rams, the Division II program coached by Naismith Hall-of-Famer Herb Magee at the institution formerly known as Philadelphia University.
The Owls’ top seven this year are all returners. Brown, a redshirt senior, is back after missing last year due to an Achilles injury; he joins Enechionyia as seniors with Aflakpui and Shizz Alston Jr. as juniors. Quinton Rose, Alani Moore and Damien Moore are a sophomore group whose development will be crucial to Temple’s success this year. Last year, Temple went 16-16, with a 7-11 record in the American Athletic Conference; expectations are substantially higher this time around.
Dunphy went 10 deep in that exhibition, using three of the four freshmen on his roster for at least nine minutes apiece: wings J.P. Moorman and Dre Perry and guard Nate Pierre-Louis.
“The exhibition game helped, we tried to take it as serious as possible, treat it like a real game so that our guys got that experience and really we used it as our first game,” Enechionyia said. “We’re not going into ODU thinking we haven’t played a game yet. We know each other, we know the team chemistry and things like that, so it won’t be a problem for us.”
Like Temple, which started two seniors and two juniors in its exhibition, Old Dominion is a rather veteran group, with two seniors and three juniors in its top seven. They were led in their win over Towson by redshirt junior guard B.J. Stith’s 15 points; junior guard Ahmad Caver, the team’s leading scorer a year ago (13.0 ppg), played all 40 minutes and scored 10 points with five rebounds.
A member of Conference-USA, Old Dominion went 19-12 last season (12-6 C-USA) and graduated two senior starters off that team.
“They’ll be a little more experienced than we will be in terms of knowing their team,” Dunphy said, “but there’s not much we can do about it, and hopefully we will play really well when we get to Charleston.”
The Owls are certainly itching to get going.
“[We’re] really, really juiced,” Enechionyia said. “We’re all excited to play and get that opportunity on Thursday, so we can’t wait.”