Temple snubbed, will settle for NIT

It seemed when the Temple men’s basketball team walked off the floor of the Liacouras Center on March 7 with a win over Connecticut, it did so for the last time this season. But on Sunday night the stunned Owls found themselves snubbed by the NCAA selection committee, which favored bubble teams from “power” conferences.

It seemed when the Temple men’s basketball team walked off the floor of the Liacouras Center on March 7 with a win over Connecticut, it did so for the last time this season.

The Owls had wrapped up a 22-win regular season that included wins over Kansas and Cincinnati and had tied the Bearcats for third in the American Athletic Conference.

A first-round American win over Memphis just seemed to solidify Temple's return to the NCAA field after a one-year absence.

But on Sunday night the stunned Owls found themselves snubbed by the NCAA selection committee, which favored bubble teams from “power” conferences – including an inexplicable choice of UCLA, a team with fewer wins, a lower RPI, a worse winning percentage against RPI Top 100 and poorer play down the stretch than Temple.

So now the Owls will return to the Liacouras Center on Wednesday night as a No. 1 seed in the NIT, hosting No. 8 Bucknell. They could play two more games there if they keep advancing, which would earn them the consolation of playing in Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals.

Temple finished the season 23-10 but four of the losses came before Jesse Morgan was eligible and another three when standout point guard Will Cummings was hobbled by a leg injury. Overall, the Owls were 17-3 with Cummings and Morgan fully healthy and available.

“It looks like the power five conferences got a lot of the attention,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. “I think we’re a power basketball conference, but there’s no control you have.

“From what I hear, they have piles and piles and piles of information in front of them. They study everybody’s resume. I hope they saw (the reasons behind many of the losses), but we had opportunities.

“We won 23 games. If you had told me before the season we would win 23 games, I’m not so sure I wouldn’t have signed those papers. I’m proud of our team, proud of our University. I wish we were included, but we’re not.”

The snub was even more stunning since the American claimed just two bids – league champion SMU and Cincinnati. Last year, SMU didn’t make it to the tournament despite being nationally ranked.

“I didn’t think it was a guarantee at all,” said senior point guard Will Cummings. “Just because of what happened to SMU last year. I’ve always had that in the back of my mind, there’s no guarantees. When I heard a couple teams called, I prepared myself for it.”

Temple coach Fran Dunphy said he left the room when the selections were being announced, hoping to hear a celebratory cheer when the Owls were listed on a line. It never came.

Dunphy and Cummings said Temple were probably a win away.

“Could we have done something else?” said Dunphy. “If we had beaten SMU one of the three times, would we be in? Probably.”

It was the second huge snub for the school’s athletic programs this year as a 6-6 bowl eligible football team wasn’t invited to participate in a bowl last fall.

Cummings was asked how he would get his team motivated for the NIT after the disappointment of being unfairly left out of the NCAA Tournament.

“You think you have a good enough resume, better than some teams in the tournament,” said Cummings. “It’s like a slap in the face. I’m definitely surprised.

“First I have to get myself back up before I get those guys back up. The disappointment will never be gone. I’ll always have that chip on my shoulder, that anger that we didn’t get in.”

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