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Team preview: Temple

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.

COACH AND PROGRAM

The Liacouras Center rafters are a scrapbook of the 30-year marriage between Temple and the Atlantic 10.

Ten regular-season championships. Nine conference tournament titles.

Both are league records. Behind Hall-of-Fame coach John Chaney and his 2006 replacement Fran Dunphy, the Owls have been the Atlantic 10's big fish since the two walked down the aisle in 1982.

The relationship worked. Temple made 21 appearances in the NCAA tournament and the league had its cornerstone.

Temple Owls

The Owls, though, are packing their bags for the Big East. The 2012-13 season is the swan song, and it will play a sad tune. For longtime league followers, it's eerie to think of the A-10 without Temple and Temple without the A-10.

A new era, nonetheless, is coming, and Temple is looking to enter it with an 11th regular-season A-10 crown and a 10th conference tournament title. Once again, Dunphy, who boasts a 56-11 league mark the last three seasons, has a full stable.

Some health issues and the level of impact made by a pair of transfers will weigh heavily.

Senior forward Scootie Randall (10.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg in 2010-11) and transfer junior forward Dalton Pepper (3.5 points, 10.1 mpg in two seasons at West Virginia), sat on the sidelines for Temple's 24-8 campaign last season. They watched an upset of third-ranked Duke in Philadelphia and saw the Owls tear into the A-10 tournament by winning 13 of their final 14 games.

Then they watched UMass upset Temple in Atlantic City, sending the Owls home from the A-10 tournament without a win for only the fourth time ever.

That disappointment was only a prelude to a wrenching 58-44 loss to 12th-seeded Florida in the NCAA tournament second round. The fifth-seeded Owls were outscored 50-25 over the final 26 minutes, 34 seconds after opening with a 19-8 lead.

"We didn't finish strong, but that's all behind us," Dunphy said. "That's the last thing on this group's mind."

Guards Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, two major pieces in Temple's recent success, finished the game, and their TU careers, by combing for a 2-for-12, six-point outing. In his final season, Fernandez averaged 11.4 points and led the Owls in assists (3.9), 3-point percentage (.434) and 3-pointers made (2.1 per game). Moore, a first team all-conference selection, ranked second in the A-10 in scoring (17.3 ppg) and minutes played (36.5 mpg).

A third senior, Michael Eric, whose return from injury directly correlated with the Owls going 13-1 to close the regular season, averaged 9.1 points and 8.8 rebounds.

"I honestly think we're still going to be pretty deep," Dunphy said. "We're going to have three fifth-year guys and two seniors on the team. We'll have the requisite experience that we need and everyone else will be able to just fill in around it."

Fernandez and Moore's departure leaves 6-4 senior shooting guard Khalif Wyatt (17.1 ppg, 3.3 apg, 3.2 rpg, 2.2 spg) as the remnants of TU's dynamic three-guard offense from a year ago. A major key for the Owls will be how Wyatt, who scored 20-plus points in 12 games, responds to the increased weight on his shoulders as TU's top option.

"He's certainly expected to be our leading scorer; I think he can handle that," Dunphy said. "He would welcome that challenge. The challenge for us will be to find others around him to contribute."

In seeing his minutes rise from 20.7 to 33.0 per game in 2011-12, Wyatt increased his scoring average by seven points per game and increased his shooting percentage from .468 to .479, but saw his 3-point percentage drop from .421 to .379. Wyatt, a native of nearby Norristown, is a dynamic scorer, but he can occasionally fall into the trap of forcing the issue offensively.

"He does try some things that sometimes you wish he wouldn't, but that's also what makes him so talented," Dunphy said. "He's very, very fearless. He wants the ball. He wants the spotlight. He's not afraid to take the big shot."

As an off guard handling occasional point guard duties, Wyatt will typically see speedy 6-1 sophomore Will Cummings (1.4 ppg, 0.4 apg) running point, being spelled by veteran fifth-year guard T.J. DiLeo (2.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.9 apg).

Cummings, who replaces the 1,121 points and 424 career assists tallied by Fernandez, played just 6.3 minutes per game as a freshman. The Florida native is a true point who excels in transition and can get the ball to the rim.

"Cummings will be expected to play a lot; it's his turn now," Dunphy said. "Hopefully he'll reward his teammates with some solid play."

After Wyatt, Temple returns just one player who averaged more than 7.0 points in 2011-12. Senior forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (9.3 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is the Owls' long, disruptive glue guy. He rebounds, defends and makes good things happen. That's why he averaged 33.9 minutes an outing as a junior.

The Owls' lack of returning firepower makes the aforementioned combo of Randall and Pepper, as well as offseason pickup Jake O'Brien, that much more important.

O'Brien, a 6-9 graduate student from Boston University, came aboard late in the summer. He's instantly eligible and brings 1,020 career points and 444 rebounds to the table. As a junior in 2010-11, O'Brien was averaging 11.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game before a foot injury ended his season. A second surgery on the same foot in September 2011 caused him to redshirt last season.

"His ankle is still an issue that we take day-to-day, but he seems close to 100 percent," Dunphy said.

As a face-up power forward with shooting touch, O'Brien is expected to earn chunks of minutes in the post. He transferred from BU after the Terriers were ruled ineligible for the America East tournament upon announcing their departure from the conference in 2013-14.

Randall, a versatile wing from Philadelphia, had his 2010-11 season cut short with a knee injury, then faced a prolonged recovery from surgery. The 6-6, 215-pound veteran could have returned midseason a year ago, but he chose to redshirt. Now questions will swirl whether Randall can return to being the player he was in 2010-11, when a 28-point performance at Xavier highlighted his season.

"Scootie is fine physically," Dunphy said.

Pepper returns to the Philadelphia spotlight after two years at West Virginia and one year waiting on Dunphy's bench. Staring at the same high school that produced former TU star Lavoy Allen, Pepper scored a school-record 2,207 points over four straight undefeated league seasons for Pennsbury High School. He was a consensus top-150 recruit before heading to Morgantown.

After two years spending more time on the pine than the hardwood, Pepper, a strong small forward at 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, came home.

"He's expected to play a significant, significant role for us this year," Dunphy said. "He can make shots, but what he has to do is get shots. We'll have to feed him in the right spots and he'll need to get the ball to the rim and finish."

Young talent, notably 6-9 sophomore power forward Anthony Lee (5.0 ppg, 5.2), fills out Dunphy's roster.

Lee started 17 games last year and returns with some added weight and muscle. Dunphy noted that he will "carry a lot of the load for us down low this year" because of his shot blocking, rebounding and occasional scoring touch.

Of Temple's three freshmen, 6-10 center Devontae Watson can earn minutes immediately because of his length and shot-blocking ability. Long considered a project at his Midland, Pa., high school, Watson finished his career with more than 1,000 points, rebounds and blocked shots.

Daniel Dingle, whose older brother, Dana, partook in some of the legendary UMass-Temple slugfests of the mid-1990s, enters the fold at TU as a 6-7, 210-pound small forward. Ranked as a Top 150 player in his class, Dingle picked the Owls over Miami, Auburn and Seton Hall. Dunphy said he'll be "a key role player" early on.

Versatile wing Quenton DeCosey rounds out Dunphy's freshman class. A natural athlete with a developing jumper, DeCosey picked Temple over offers from Penn State, West Virginia and Virginia Tech.

The Owls, old in age, but new in appearance, will tackle a non-conference schedule highlighted by games against Duke at Izod Center in Newark, N.J., Syracuse at Madison Square Garden and at Kansas.

A trip down memory lane in the Atlantic 10 then follows.

"I think we can be good," Dunphy said, "but I don't know if we can be great."

BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS

BACKCOURT: B+

BENCH/DEPTH: B+

FRONTCOURT: B+

INTANGIBLES: A-

Temple will look to shed the program's string of four first-round NCAA tournament exists over the last five years. This coming despite the fact that few members of the roster had major roles in the downfalls. Maybe that's a good thing.

An influx of new talent and new leadership turns over a fresh page in Dunphy's program. How the new Owls gel around Wyatt, along with the health of Randall and O'Brien, and the growth of Cummings at point guard, will probably determine if Temple is a top-four team in its A-10 farewell tour. The talent is certainly there.

The one constant in all this is Dunphy. His TU tenure is underlined by success in the A-10. History tells us the Owls will start slow, finish strong, and dance for the fifth time in six years.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.