Temple’s upset victory last week over previously undefeated Houston finally put the Owls on the correct side of the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, with about two months remaining until Selection Sunday, they have a lot of work to do to stay there.
The 73-69 win over American Athletic Conference rival Cougars allowed the Owls (13-3) to move up from No. 61 to No. 44 in the NCAA Evaluation Tool (NET) rankings, and marked their first Quadrant 1 win of the season after earlier defeats to Villanova and Central Florida.
However, even with all that, Temple is the very last team in the NCAA field of 68 in the latest projection Tuesday on ESPN.com from veteran bracketologist Joe Lunardi, listed as an 11 seed with a First Four matchup against Kansas State.
“They’ve certainly played a representative schedule,” Lunardi said Tuesday. “They now have two or three really solid wins. Houston was unbeaten when they played them and is going to be in the field, so that’s a notch in their resume that can only help. I think the question is whether or not the coattails of the American can go four deep. It’s a very good league at the top.”
Houston is a No. 5 seed and Central Florida and Cincinnati both are seeded ninth in Lunardi’s latest bracket. Tuesday’s NET rankings have the Cougars ninth, the Knights 32nd, and the Bearcats 36th. The Owls lost, 78-73, to UCF in their AAC opener on Jan. 2.
“I think if Temple had somehow hung on in that game at UCF, we would be talking about them being close to solid as opposed to last-four-in range,” Lunardi said. “They’re the very last team in the field on our board today, which tells me they’re going to bounce in and out a few times.”
The Owls also are subject to being passed on the board even when idle. An example came Monday night when Syracuse upset No. 1 Duke in overtime on the road and dropped the Owls down a rung.
“That kind of stuff is going to happen even when they’re not playing,” Lunardi said. “I think Temple fans need to get used to that merry-go-round. Look, they’ve played a good schedule and they’re good enough. So it comes down to, can they get one of two more Houstons and avoid any bad losses that could keep them out?”
A pivotal part of the Owls’ schedule will come later this month when they host Cincinnati and visit Houston in a span of five days. UCF will visit the Liacouras Center for the regular-season finale.
“If they can win three against Cincinnati, Houston and UCF, they’re going to be more likely in than out, provided they don’t completely implode against one of the bottom-dwellers,” Lunardi said.
According to its NCAA team sheet, Temple is 4-1 against Quadrant 2 teams (wins over Davidson, Georgia, Missouri, and Wichita State, and a loss to VCU); 2-0 against Quadrant 3 (South Florida, St. Joseph’s), and 6-0 against Quadrant 4. The Owls have an overall strength of schedule of 39th, but are 140th in nonconference strength of schedule.