The March Madness selection season is heating up and several teams across the country are fighting it out for the last spots in the tournament, including the Temple Owls (17-10, 11-4).
After knocking off Houston (20-8, 10-6) in a thrilling 69-66 win on the road Sunday, the Owls faced another tough road game Tuesday against Tulsa (19-9, 11-5). Tulsa, who served as bubble busters to the Owls last season, cruised to a 74-55 win as Temple now faces a similar situation to the one they were in a year ago.
After the loss to the Golden Hurricane, Temple now sits as one of USA Today’s last four into the tournament, projected to face Vanderbilt in a play-in game for the 11th seed. The Washington Post has the Owls as a 10-seed against No. 7 South Carolina, narrowly avoiding the play-in game.
The Owls are guaranteed a bid this year by winning the American Athletic Conference tournament, which starts March 10th in Orlando, Florida. Currently the Owls are first place in the conference, just a half game above Tulsa and a full game above Cincinnati (19-8, 10-5) in the standings.
SMU (22-4, 10-4), who defeated Temple in the tournament final last season, also sits just a half game back but is ineligible to play in the postseason due to academic violations.
“We need to win as many games as we can,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We have three terrific opportunities coming up in a great league and if we can finish strong then we’ll take our chances.”
The Owls control their own tournament destiny with two games at home against UCF (11-15, 5-10) and Memphis (15-12, 6-8) this week, before closing out the year on the road next Sunday against Tulane (10-8, 3-12).
They’ll need a lift from Temple forward ObiEnechionyia, who has been stellar in the team’s last four games. He’s averaged 19 points and five rebounds while shooting 16-of-28 (57%) from three-point range in that time span.
“We need to forget about this game, watch the film, learn from our mistakes and come out on Saturday ready to play,” Enechionyia said after Tuesday’s loss. “We have three more important games. We’re still at the top of the conference and we need to stay there. These last games are important.”
If they win all three, the Owls will hold the AAC tournament’s top seed and a first-round bye.
The Owls game against UCF Saturday will air at Noon on ESPNews.