Jaylen Bond (above) and the Owls are hungry after being the first team out of the NCAAs last year. (Photo: Josh Einbinder-Schatz/CoBL)
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
(Ed. Note: This article is part of CoBL's 2015-16 College Season Preview, which will run from October 2-November 13, the first day of games. For the complete rundown, click here)
2015-16 Temple Owls Season Primer
Coach: Fran Dunphy, 10th season (193-108, .641)
Last Year: 26-11 overall, 13-5 American Athletic; lost in AAC semifinal (SMU, 69-59), NIT semifinal (Miami Fl., 60-57)
There’s no doubt that 2014-15 was a big step forward from the year before, when the Owls won just nine games in one of the worst seasons in the program’s century-long history. After a shaky start, the addition of two transfers spurred Temple to an eye-opening, 82-62 win over Kansas on Dec. 18. Four more wins followed, driving TU’s record to 12-4 (3-0 AAC), and suddenly the Owls looked plenty dangerous again.
A three-game losing streak was followed by seven consecutive wins, and after closing out the year 22-9 (13-5), it looked like the NCAA Tournament was within grasp. But after losing to SMU in the AAC semifinals, Temple found itself as the first school left out of March Madness, and had to settle for an eventual NIT Tournament run that ended at the hands of Miami (Fl.) at Madison Square Garden in the semifinals.
Key Losses: PG Will Cummings (14.8 ppg, 4.2 apg), SG Jesse Morgan (11.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg)
Like a typical four-year player under Dunphy, Cummings gave his all during his senior year, leading the team in scoring, assists and steals (1.9/game) while pulling in 4.1 rpg as well. A left ankle injury bothered him in January but he picked his play up upon his return, scoring in double figures in 13 straight games before going for a career-high 30 in a win over Bucknell in the first round of the NIT. Most importantly, Cummings was the emotional leader of the Owls, and it’s that area of his game that will be the biggest challenge for Dunphy and staff to replace.
While Cummings appeared in 120 games in his Temple career, Morgan had a much briefer stint in Cherry and White. The former UMass guard was granted one final semester of eligibility after coming to Temple two years removed from a torn ACL, and his return to the court helped the Owls to a 20-7 record to close out the season. Combined, their graduations leave a big hole in minutes, scoring and leadership on the perimeter.
New Faces: G Levan Alston, Jr. (Fr./The Haverford School, Pa.), SG Trey Lowe (Fr./Ewing, N.J.), G Ayan Carvalho (Fr./Argentina), PF Ernest Aflakpui (Fr./Archbishop Carroll, Pa.)
This class has a chance to be Dunphy’s best yet at Temple, and it’s certainly a pivotal group as the Owls look to get back to their regular appearances in the NCAA Tournament after a couple of years away. The first of the four to commit is Lowe, a 6-6 wing guard who became one of the top scorers in central Jersey history, with nearly 2500 points during a stellar career at Ewing; as a senior, he averaged 24.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 4.9 apg and 2.9 spg, and he’s got NBA shooting range combined with a very advanced post-up game for a guard.
Alston, the son of former Temple guard Levan Alston Sr., who starred the last four years at The Haverford School out on the Main Line. A lanky 6-foot-4 combo guard, Alston chose Temple over offers from Penn State and VCU, among many other mid-to-high-major schools. He’s a natural scorer from all three levels, and as he adjusts to the physicality of the Division I level should become a very good player in Dunphy’s free-flowing motion offense.
The last local commitment, Aflakpui, missed the majority his senior year at Carroll with a knee injury he suffered early in the season, but the 6-9 forward looks like he’s getting back to full health as the season approaches. Though he might find it difficult to break into the rotation right away due to his return from injury combined with Temple’s depth up front, the Ghana native has improved in leaps and bounds since his arrival at Carroll three years ago, and should play a large role in the future.
Finally, Carvalho completed the group when he committed to Temple just a few weeks before the fall semester began, but the coaching staff is high on the South American guard. A member of Argentina’s U-17 team two years ago, Carvalho is the latest in a line of Argentine guards who have come up to N. Broad St., following Pepe Sanchez and Juan Fernandez; if he can have the impact of Fernandez, a three-year starter who led Temple to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, Owls fans will be plenty happy.
Starting Frontcourt: PF Jaylen Bond (7.9 ppg, 7.9 rpg), C Devontae Watson (2.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg)
After sitting out the 2013-14 season due to NCAA transfer regulations, Bond’s Temple debut was delayed a few games thanks to a sprained ankle. The former Texas big man, a Plymouth-Whitemarsh grad, took a few games to get going, but his 11-point, 13-rebound outing against LIU Brooklyn was the first of five double-doubles in a 12-game span. However, there were also a few games where he barely had an impact--with more consistency, he could be one of the nation’s top double-double threats as a senior.
While the 6-7, 230-pound Bond is a wide-shouldered force to be reckoned with in the paint, Watson is quite different at 6-10 and a slender 215 pounds. A product of western Pennsylvania’s Lincoln Park HS, Watson has been mostly unspectacular in his three seasons as an Owl, averaging 2.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg and 1.0 bpg for his career, playing more than 20 minutes or more just three times last season despite getting 30 starts. His 7-6 wingspan makes him an impressive shot-blocker, but don’t expect much of a role change for him as a senior.
Quenton DeCosey (above) is Temple's leading returning scorer at 12.3 ppg. (Photo: Tug Haines/CoBL)
Starting Backcourt: PG Josh Brown (6.3 ppg, 1.5 apg), SG Devin Coleman (3.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg), SG Quenton DeCosey (12.3 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
With Cummings moving on to the professional ranks, the role of starting point guard will likely fall to Brown, a 6-3 junior out of St. Anthony (N.J.) who has proved to be a capable backup and top-level defender in his first two years on North Broad. His overall shooting (40.8 percent) and 3-point shooting (37.5 percent) were huge improvements on his freshman year, but an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6:1 could use to improve a little bit, especially with the scoring options assembled around him.
The Owls’ likely leading scorer this year will almost certainly be DeCosey, who enters his senior season just 13 points shy of 1,000 and in his third year in the starting lineup. A 6-5 wing originally from St. Joseph’s-Metuchen (N.J.), DeCosey actually saw his scoring average drop from sophomore year (15.4 ppg) to his junior season. Though the number of other scorers in the backcourt means it’s unlikely he’ll need to do much more than his sophomore season from a statistical perspective, it remains to be seen if DeCosey has the leadership mentality that Dunphy wants out of his seniors.
The final starting spot is up for grabs, but ultimately whoever gets it will split time with a number of options off the bench depending on the size Dunphy wants on the floor. We’ll give the early nod to Coleman, who along with Morgan became eligible midway through last season; the Friends’ Central (Pa.) grad spent his first three college semesters at Clemson before electing to transfer. A 6-3 lefthanded shooting guard, Coleman needs to improve upon his 3-point numbers (18-of-61, .295 as a junior) if he wants to hold onto this spot.
Bench: F Obi Enechionyia (5.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg), F Daniel Dingle (3.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg), F Mark Williams (3.5 ppg, 2.6 rpg), G Levan Alston, Jr., SG Trey Lowe, F/C Ernest Aflakpui, SG Ayan Carvalho
If there’s one word to describe this group, it’s versatility. Everybody that Dunphy can bring off his bench can easily play two positions, and a few can even play three depending on the lineup. Enechionyia, a 6-9 forward, is poised for a breakout season thanks to his abilities on both end of the court; in addition to being able to shoot out to the 3-point line, he was also the team's leading shot blocker a year ago, with 45 rejections. He's a more athletic version of Dingle, a 6-7 redshirt junior forward who can also play inside and out; both are former top-125 recruits, and Dingle could also be in for a nice uptick in production now that he's two years removed from a knee injury that still bothered him during last year.
After those two and Williams, a less-mobile 6-8 forward who might be squeezed out of the frontcourt if Aflakpui is ready to eat up minutes, it's all about the freshmen guards. With only Brown as a true primary ball-handler in the starting lineup, there's certainly a prime opportunity for Alston and Carvalho to earn playing time, and Lowe could also see big minutes if he can bring his scoring touch to the high-major level right away.
Three Games to Watch
1. vs. North Carolina (Nov. 13, Annapolis). Temple gets the season underway with a bang, traveling down to the Naval Academy to take on what should be a top-10 team in the Tar Heels. Coming off a 26-12 season that saw them advance to the Sweet 16 for the seventh time in 12 years under head coach Roy Williams. Back are the top three scorers including Marcus Paige (14.1 ppg, 4.5 apg), Brice Johnson (12.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg) and Kennedy Meeks (11.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg), and they’re joined by top-100 freshmen Kenny Williams and Luke Maye. This will be a tough test for an Owls squad that’s still learning how to play together, but we’ll learn a lot from how they react to playing on such a big stage right away.
2. vs. La Salle (Jan. 20). It’s been more than a decade since the last Big 5 doubleheader in the Palestra, and who knows how long until it happens again. But on one Wednesday night in January, four of the five teams in the city series will be taking the same court, with Penn and Saint Joseph’s squaring off after the Owls and Explorers meet at 7 PM. This has the potential to be one of the best atmospheres in all of college hoops this year, with a mix of cherry, blue, red and gold all up into the Cathedral’s corners.
3. vs. Southern Methodist (Jan. 23). It will take a few years for rivalries to form in the new American Athletic Conference, but Temple and SMU seem like they’re on that track. In addition to the connection of former 76ers coach Larry Brown taking over the Mustangs (and now leading them into an NCAA investigation), Southern Methodist was the team that beat Temple in the AAC semifinals last year and ultimately kept them out of the NCAA Tournament. That was the third time that SMU beat Temple last season, and you can bet the Owls are more than hungry for some revenge.
Three Keys to Success
1. Brown’s emergence. Under Dunphy, Temple has developed a kind of “tradition” of having guards emerge during their junior seasons after spending two learning years as underclassmen. Khalif Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Cummings have all done it in the last few years, and now it would appear that it’s time for Josh Brown to make a similar move. He was solid as a sophomore, averaging 6.3 ppg and 3.1 rpg in 21 mpg, but for Temple to make a move back towards the NCAA Tournament this year he’ll need to step his game up in all facets, especially distributing for scorers like DeCosey, Enechionyia, Dingle, Lowe and others.
2. Improved shooting. Despite the fact that they had the fourth-lowest turnover rate in the country, Temple’s offense was middle-of-the-pack last year (1.034 ppp, 143rd nationally) because the Owls had some serious problems shooting the ball. Temple’s 30.4 percent rate from 3-point range and 43.4 percent shooting from inside the arc were 314th and 320th in the country, according to KenPom.com. Brown (37.5 percent) and DeCosey (35.9 percent) weren’t the problem in terms of 3-point shooting, but Bond (21.3 percent), Coleman (29.5 percent) and Dingle (22.1 percent) combined for 185 attempts last season, and they’ll either need to improve their percentages or stop taking as many shots. Perhaps the biggest singular point of improvement could be DeCosey’s 2-point shooting, which was at 38.8 percent last year on more than 200 attempts.
3. Effective versatility. Dunphy has a number of players on the roster who can play quite a few positions, especially up front. Enechionyia and Bond can arguably play anything from the ‘3’ to the ‘5’, though if the two are playing together up front along with Watson it would be Enechionyia out on the wing and Bond playing the power forward position. Dingle can also play the ‘3’ or ‘4’, and Lowe could play the ‘2’ or ‘3’ as well with his length and scoring ability. But while all of those players can do multiple things, it won’t matter much if they can’t be productive from those different areas on the court. The more lineup possibilities Dunphy has to work with, the tougher the Owls will be to gameplan for.