The past two seasons have brought some hardware for the Temple Owls by way of two Atlantic 10 tournament championships. Unfortunately, high hopes of upsets in the NCAA tourney never came to fruition in either season. A first round exit to Michigan State in 2008 and Arizona State in 2009 has left a bitter taste for Owl faithful.
Lofty expectations were plentiful going into the 2008-2009 season, what with senior leadership on the perimeter and in the post, especially with one of those seniors, guard Dionte Christmas, being a potential All-American.
Now the Fran Dunphy era reaches a vital turning point. Most players will all be his own recruits when he took over the helm from legendary coach, John Chaney, in 2006.
Looking ahead at what's in store for Dunphy and the Owls, let's first assess the losses.
Players lost to graduation
Obviously the biggest loss for Dunphy and the hardest to replace is the aforementioned Christmas. He led the Atlantic 10 in scoring for three straight years (nearly 20 ppg this past season). He was an unquestionable go-to-guy supplied with deep, deep range from beyond the arc.
Often overlooked, however, was his defense. He was the best off-the-ball defender the Owls had and thrived in Dunphy's man-to-man style. He averaged 1.5 steals a game to lead the Owls in 2009 as well as nearly 6 rebounds, most of which were undoubtedly on the defensive end.
For all his acclaim, Christmas showed some flaws that may hurt his NBA status. With 98 turnovers and exactly as many assists, Christmas was a shady ball-handler at times. His biggest fault was his reluctance to attack the basket when his jump shot wasn't falling. He could be extremely stubborn in trying to shoot himself out of a slump rather than penetrating and creating something for himself or a teammate.
Regardless, Christmas, like Mardy Collins and Lyn Greer before him, will be a sorely missed scoring threat for the Owls.
Also graduating is the 7 foot center, Sergio Olmos. The Spaniard grew into his own over the past couple of seasons. Under Chaney's style, Olmos played mostly reserve minutes. When Dunphy made the move to North Broad Street, Olmos nearly doubled his minutes and did well in Dunphy's high-low post offensive sets.
In 2009, Olmos really began to show improvements offensively. He could seal and provide a big target for easy entry passes and was aware of cutters often finding them baseline or flashing opposite side through the lane.
Olmos understood he was not the first scoring option, and often served was more like a displaced point guard in the post by kicking it out and looking to make quick reversals.
For all his improvements on offense, he never showed it in the rebounding category. Olmos only averaged 4 rebounds a game - at 7 feet tall, mind you. He was an easy box out on the defensive end, often getting pushed past the free throw line.
Despite his downfalls, Olmos will be tough to replace because of his size and wide target in the post. Nearly 1.5 blocks a game was also nice to have as well.
It seems as though Temple is losing a major player from every position, as point guard Semaj Inge also departs. Inge brought some stability to the offense; he truly was a floor general and controlled the tempo well at times.
The senior was reliable mostly in the half court. Teams that brought some pressure, on the other hand, exposed Inges' panicky side at times. Defensively, Inge was sometimes a liability and lacked aggressiveness.
He was a very good cutter away from the ball, keeping constant motion. Along with Olmos, he thrived with a high-low offense and created a lot of opportunities for Christmas and junior Ryan Brooks on the perimeter. He wasn't flashy and wouldn't "wow" with his play. But Inge was a senior point guard with experience and that cannot be measured on paper.
Moving ahead, let's examine returning players and the potential demand for next year's recruiting class.
Top returning underclassmen
Rising senior Ryan Brooks may be the best scoring guard to return for the Owls. Brooks will certainly have more touches due to Christmas' absence. He has the jump shot, as evidences by shooting 41 percent from three off of 144 attempts. He seems to be a little more aggressive than Christmas in regards to attacking the lane and perhaps can surprise a national audience next year.
Other than Brooks, rising junior Lavoy Allen probably has the best chance to lead the team in scoring. The 6'9" post averaged nearly a double-double in his sophomore campaign—11 points and 9 rebounds.
His footwork improved greatly from his freshman season as he displayed an array of post moves on the low block. The biggest upside is Allen has a special knack for rebounding and displayed aggressiveness of a seasoned veteran this year on the glass.
However, Allen can be physically weak against other posts on the defensive end. If he gets stronger in the off-season, he could potentially be a first team all Atlantic 10 pick.
Complementing Allen in the post will be Michael Eric. Eric's playing time can best be described as sporadic, which may lead some to speculate there is something Dunphy might not like concerning his character or work ethic. He will be the tallest player for the Owls at 6'11" but will need to supply more in his minutes to have a greater impact in 2009-2010.
Juan Fernandez came in at the middle of the year. The 6'4" Argentinean has an impressive resume from his time spent with the under-18 National team for Argentina. As soon as he put on a Temple uniform, he was logging plenty of minutes.
Fernandez brings a savvy international play and is careful with the ball. He averaged nearly 3 assists to go along with 6 points. He should be more comfortable next season as he will be with the team from beginning.
Brute strength in the post
Fans need look no further than the Arizona State game. The biggest worry was how Temple would stop James Harden. Whether or not he was contained (which he was, being held to 9 points), the real concern was 6'9" 240 pound Jeff Pendergraph. No one was able to match his strength and body up with him. He was 8-14 shooting with most of his shots being within two-feet of the basket.
Temple has not had a physical post player since John Chaney was coaching, except his posts players were a little less basketball agile, mainly there to fulfill a minor role. Allen and Eric have decent potential, but may continue to get dominated by stronger post presences.
To date, Dunphy has not signed a major post player other than a 6'6" 185 recruit who will move to the wing. The potential signees remaining do not look too promising either.
A sheer play-maker
This sounds obligatory and perhaps counterfactual, but the Owls have not had a guard who could attack the lane consistently and break defenses down since Lynn Greer, almost seven years ago.
Mardy Collins was excellent during his tenure, but he was still more a shooting guard than point guard; he could create his own shot wonderfully, just did not have the overall quickness to create for others. Christmas certainly had the ball a majority of the time with the game on the line, but was a bit one dimensional.
If Temple can at least get a playmaker like Greer at the point, Allen and Eric's offensive numbers could explode in the post.
They've already signed a 6'3" guard, who apparently is a natural scorer from all areas of the court and sounds like he understands unselfish play.
Dunphy is also waiting on a 6'5" point guard recruit out of Philadelphia. Temple and Saint Joe's have both offered. Scouts questions his ball handling but think he has the play making ability to be effective at the division I level. He sounds very similar to the previously mentioned signee, only fits the taller mold of traditional Temple guards.
Though Allen and Brooks are capable of again helping the Owls challenge for a conference championship, it still seems like the major demands have yet to be addressed if the Owls plan to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament.