The Temple Owls are flying high after notching their ninth consecutive win, a 76-70 victory over St. Bonaventure. With a 20-5 overall record and 9-2 conference record, Temple is sitting in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 conference. Six of the nine straight wins have been by double digits, and the Owls are playing their best ball of the season. They are favorites to win the A-10 conference, and senior guard Ramon Moore is likely, and deservedly so, to be named the A-10 Player of the Year.
Joe Lunardi predicts that Temple will be a sixth seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, a prospect that makes fans giddy. This team has the toughness and resilience to make a statement in the tournament and should be a dark horse for the Sweet 16. Besides the great one-two punch of Moore and junior guard Khalif Wyatt, senior guard Juan Fernandez provides leadership and clutch shooting. All three players will be relied on for this team to advance.
However, the X-factor for this Temple team is senior center Michael Eric. A patella injury caused Eric to miss 13 games this season. He has returned slowly and played in the last eight games. As his minutes have increased, so has his production. Temple is not a very tall team and Eric's 6-11 height will be needed if they face a bigger team in the tournament.
Eric has averaged double digit rebounds (12.8 rpg) in games he's played more than 25 minutes. Coach Fran Dunphy has worked Eric back into the game slowly and his minutes have increased little by little over the past five games. It's fair to say that he's not totally 100 percent healthy and fully in game shape, but with five games remaining, he should be before the Atlantic 10 tournament.
Eric defends the post well and is a good rebounder. If Eric's playing close to 30 minutes a game, he is good for a double-double. Eric is not a natural scorer, but Temple doesn't need him to be. If he continues to rebound and block shots, he's the X-factor needed to keep the defense honest against Moore and Wyatt. In the tournament, his height and post presence will be the X-factor if Temple is to make a deep tournament run.