Looking ahead: Temple Owls

It’s never too early to start looking ahead to next season. Over the coming weeks, we will examine what comes next for each team in the Power 5 conferences and also those outside the Power 5 who could make noise on the national stage. Today: the Temple Owls.

Temple found itself holding the 69th invite to the 68-team NCAA tournament last season. As is always the case for the first team out, the argument could be made that the Owls deserved to be in over several teams that made the field. But ultimately, coach Fran Dunphy believed Temple didn’t win enough against marquee opponents. The Owls should take their share of those matchups this season and are poised to be dancing for the first time since 2013.

Blessed with the fertile recruiting ground of Philadelphia, Temple is at its best when it gets top local talent to stay home. Dunphy was able to do that in the case of 6-foot-4 guard Levan Alston Jr., who is ranked No. 94 in the ESPN 100. Alston is a legacy recruit, as Alston Sr. played at Temple from 1994 to 1996.

Alston Jr. still was considering many places until former Owls standout Aaron McKie joined Dunphy’s staff as an assistant coach at the beginning of last season. McKie is a close friend of Alston’s dad although the two didn’t play together at Temple.

Temple doesn’t have a family connection with Georgios Papagiannis, a 7-foot-1 center from Greece, but it is still in the mix to sign him late. He could be a difference-maker with his combination of size and skill. Lots of schools, including the likes of the Kentucky Wildcats, UConn Huskies, St. John’s Red Storm and Oregon Ducks, have pursued Papagiannis to make a late splash in recruiting.

Papagiannis played the 2013-14 season at a high school in West Chester, Pennsylvania, located about 30 miles from Philadelphia. He returned to Greece to play on a club team last season. He doesn’t turn 18 until next month and he could opt to play another year with his club team and skip college altogether before turning pro.

What the immediate future holds: The Owls will find out first thing how they measure up. In the season opener, Temple will face the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Veterans Classic held at the Naval Academy. The Tar Heels are on the short list of candidates for preseason No. 1 in the polls. The schools haven’t played since meeting in the 1991 NCAA tournament Elite Eight. The game should serve as a good barometer for the Owls.

A lot will depend on how ready Quenton DeCosey is to assume the leadership mantle with the departure of guard Will Cummings. Of players returning, DeCosey led the team in scoring (12.3 points) and assists (2.1). It was DeCosey, not Cummings, who took the final shot of last season with the Owls trailing by three in the NIT semifinals. The 6-foot-5 swingman missed in their loss to the Miami Hurricanes, but DeCosey likely will be the guy they look to for those game-deciding shots this season.

That doesn’t mean Temple’s fate will solely rest with DeCosey. The Owls have a core of experience joining him in the rotation, starting with 6-foot-8 senior forward Jaylen Bond. The Philadelphia native played his first two seasons at Texas, but had his best year with the Owls as a junior. He led the team with 7.9 rebounds and 41 percent of those were offensive boards.

The biggest question for Temple could come at point guard, where they lack a prototypical pass-first playmaker. Junior Josh Brown is more of a combination guard who can manage the team. Brown played every game last season and shot 37 percent from 3-point range. Freshman Trey Lowe also is more of a scoring guard who can play point if needed.

This is where Alston fits in. Dunphy could look to mold him into a point guard. In high school, Alston was known as a scorer, especially off the dribble or catch and shoot. But he also showed a knack for distributing the ball. Alston is a welcomed addition to a Temple offense that ranked 143rd in efficiency last season, according to Ken Pomeroy.

Temple needs to see the continued development of 6-foot-9 sophomore forward Obi Enechionyia and 6-foot-7 junior forward Daniel Dingle. Both showed flashes of promise last season, including Enechionyia’s 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocks against Miami. But both need to be consistent in order for the Owls to reach their potential.