Uphill Battle

For six consecutive years, the Temple men's basketball team has punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The first three of those seasons, the Owls went in as conference champions, while the last three they have easily made it to the tournament as an at-large. This year? At 4-4 coming off a tough loss to Texas that would have boosted their resume, the Owls will have a lot of work to do.

For six consecutive years, the Temple men's basketball team has punched a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.

The first three of those seasons, the Owls went in as conference champions, while the last three they have easily made it to the tournament as an at-large.

This year? At 4-4 coming off a tough loss to Texas that would have boosted their resume, the Owls will have a lot of work to do – and most of that work will come against a conference schedule tougher than what they've faced in the past.

The Owls routinely went 11-5, 12-4 and sometimes better in an Atlantic 10 Conference that was solid and came with few easy wins – but also didn't often offer many likely losses. They will have uphill battles a lot of nights in the American Athletic Conference, including two games each against No. 6 Louisville, No. 9 Connecticut and No. 16 Memphis, which are a combined 24-2.

The Owls' football team has found a new landscape challenging since making its move to the Big East/American in 2012, dropping 13 straight conference games as part of an overall 3-13 record in the league. It shouldn't be such a rough go for the men's hoops team, but it certainly could be hard-pressed to finish much above. 500.

Even if Temple sweeps non-conference foes Texas Southern and Long Island next week to head into conference play at 6-4, it will still be a game or two below what would be considered solid footing.

The Owls' RPI, normally an asset, is currently No. 95 – right behind Manhattan and Milwaukee. And while the conference schedule should inflate it somewhat, Temple still has to win.

If they only go 1-5 against the three ranked teams, the Owls would need to go 9-3 against Cincinnati, SMU, Houston, South Florida, Central Florida and Rutgers to finish 10-8 in the league. With this young Temple team which includes just one senior in Dalton Pepper, that would seem to be asking a lot.

The Owls also have two Big 5 games remaining – against La Salle and Villanova – that they would do well to split.

Best case scenario then would seem to be a 13-9 finish, leaving the Owls at 17-13 heading into the inaugural American Tournament and probably two wins short of where they would need to be to make a case for another trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Of course, the outlook seemed bleak last year when the Owls dropped a home game to Atlantic 10 bottom-feeder Duquesne on Valentine's Day. A seven-game winning streak followed and Temple comfortably made the tournament as a No.9 seed.

Two years ago, the Owls muddled along in the early going at 6-3 with a bad loss to Bowling Green, but slipped past Buffalo and Delaware before stunning Duke and giving themselves the type of marquee victory that draws the selection committee's attention.

That's another streak Temple has currently – five straight seasons with a win over a top-10 team. It might need a pair of those this season if it wants to be considered a candidate for an NCAA bid again.

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