Dunphy, Temple facing uphill climb in jump to AAC

Fran Dunphy brings a less than experienced team into its inaugural AAC campaign (USATSI)
Fran Dunphy brings a less than experienced team into its inaugural AAC campaign. (USATSI)

PHILADELPHIA -- Fran Dunphy has led teams to the NCAA Tournament in 15 of his 24 seasons as a college head coach.

He's one of the sport's most respected teachers and tacticians, and has enjoyed incredible success over the last two and half decades at both Penn and Temple.

But Dunphy may have the tallest task of his coaching career ahead of him this season as the Owls jump to the American Athletic Conference after a long run in the Atlantic 10.

"I think this is as challenged as I've been as a basketball coach," Dunphy said last week. "It should be a very interesting experience for us this year to see where we wind up. There's a lot of unknowns and a lot of apprehension at this point."

As there should be.

Temple lost five seniors from last year's team that won 24 games and nearly upset Indiana in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. Those five players -- Khalif Wyatt, Scootie Randall, Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, Jake O'Brien, and T.J. Dileo -- combined to average 52.9 points per game last season.

Most will say that the stocky Wyatt, who scored 31 points in each of the Owls' NCAA games last March will be the one player that Temple misses the most but Dunphy believes each veteran on last year's team added something unique.

"I think the thing that we're missing right now is the character piece," Dunphy said. "We're still developing that. We're missing T.J. Dileo and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson who were off the charts as character guys. They'd sacrifice like crazy for their teammates. They could care less what happened to them individually. It was all about the team. And I think we're still developing that mentality. As much as we're missing Khalif (Wyatt), who would bail us out of a situation with a great play at the end of a shot clock, and he makes you competitive against anyone at any time, we need to define our character first as a team."

Will Cummings should be the person who does that for this particular group. Now a junior, Cummings has a year under his belt as Dunphy's starting point guard and has separated himself so far during the preseason.

"He's the guy that's shown the most leadership right now," Dunphy said of Cummings, who averaged 5.8 points per game last year as a sophomore.

Anthony Lee is back as a redshirt junior and will start for the Owls at center. The 6-9 Lee has to be a constant performer if Temple is going to compete against the elite front lines in the AAC.

"He's critical," Dunphy said of Lee, who averaged 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game last season. "He's got to be a double-double guy for us. And we need regular production from Quenton DeCosey, Daniel Dingle, and Dalton Pepper. Two of those three have to be on for us on every given night."

DeCosey is the player likeliest to emerge offensively. The 6-5 sophomore shows flashes of being a big time scorer but needs to become more consistent.

"Quenton has the ability," Dunphy said of DeCosey. "He's really a talented kid. Now it's a matter of putting the other pieces together every day."

Freshmen Josh Brown and Mark Williams should be immediate factors in Temple's rotation. The 6-8 Williams is a capable screener and interior presence while Brown is a tenacious on-ball defender who should see plenty of time in the Owls' backcourt alongside Cummings.

With the exception of Lee and Cummings who both started last year, this team is filled with unproven commodities. No one knows how Dingle, DeCosey, and Pepper will handle expanded roles and a higher level of competition.

There's also no way to determine how Temple will respond to the most difficult schedule in the school's history.

In addition to two meetings apiece against their AAC counterparts, the Owls will also host Texas, Villanova, Saint Joseph's, travel to CAA favorite Towson, face La Salle at the Palestra, and play in the Charleston Classic in November.

Considering the lack of experience on Temple's roster, that schedule would have been a load if this team was in the Atlantic 10. Instead they're in the American, a league that could potentially send as many as six teams to the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville is the defending national champion and should be a Top 10 team nationally all season. UConn, Memphis, and Cincinnati are all perennial NCAA teams while SMU and South Florida have the look of being significantly better than they were a season ago. Rutgers, Houston, and Central Florida round out the conference and all return multiple starters.

"It's really loaded," Dunphy said of the AAC.

And it will challenge Temple unlike they've ever been challenged before.

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