The disappointment of an NCAA Tournament snub in March is behind them and the members of the 2015-2016 Temple men’s basketball want to leave nothing to chance this season.
The Owls have a big opportunity to take a first step towards that goal with their opening game Friday night at the Naval Academy against No. 1 North Carolina. The game against the Tar Heels is part of a tough early-season stretch that includes three games in Puerto Rico.
“We had our exorcisms last year,” said coach Fran Dunphy to reporters assembled at Monday’s media day. “Hopefully we got rid of the thoughts we should have been in the tournament. It’s over and done with, and this is a whole new group and opportunity.
“It’s how we’re measured is NCAA opportunities. That’s what we want to do. We’re picked sixth in our league (the American Athletic Conference) and our non-conference schedule is off the charts. We have our hands full, but that’s the goal. (to play in the NCAAs).”
The Owls will bring back senior Jaylen Bond, a ferocious rebounder who was named team captain, as well as senior wing Quenton DeCosey, who can be an explosive scorer. DeCosey is the leading returning scorer at 12.3 points per game, while Bond averaged 7.9 rebounds.
Temple will replace its backcourt, three-year starting point guard Will Cummings and shooting guard Jesse Morgan. Josh Brown has been the point guard in waiting and Dunphy has consistently referred to him as the team’s hardest worker.
Brown doesn’t have Cummings’ scoring acumen but is dependable and defends, which are big keys for Dunphy.
“He was always in the end of the game the last two years,” said Dupnhy. “Instead of Will being that go-to guy, it’s Josh and I think he’s ready for it. The big thing is Will very rarely let his guy get by him last year, and that’s what Josh has to do.”
Sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia will be counted on heavily this year after flashing tons of potential in a reserve role as a freshman.
“He’s a very good scorer and can hit shots from the perimeter,” said Dupnhy. “We need him to finish more around the basket and use his athleticism to rebound. We need a lot out of Obi.”
The addition of a highly regarded freshman class will be one of the key storylines early in the season. Guards Trey Lowe and Levan Shawn Alston and center Ernest Aflakpui are all expected to receive playing time, though Dunphy has traditionally relied more on his veterans, especially in the early going.
“They’ll be in the game,” said Dunphy of the freshmen. “They’re ahead of our expectations.”
The Owls will also be looking for improvement from junior forwards Daniel Dingle and Mark Williams and senior center Devontae Watson. Dunphy mentioned Dingle as a player who could take a big step after watching him in the team’s scrimmages and practices.
Senior guard Devin Coleman, who became eligible after a transfer from Clemson in the middle of last season, could also have a bigger role.
It will all start to play out with a big game against North Carolina on Friday night, and the Owls are hoping it ends in the NCAA Tournament.
“Not making it last year was definitely motivation,” said DeCosey. “This season we have to play with a chip on our shoulder and get back to the tournament.”