After a 10-2 non-conference record, Temple will have an ambitious beginning to its conference schedule when the Owls visit preseason American Athletic Conference favorite Central Florida (10-2) on Wednesday.
Temple, which has been idle since an 82-64 win over Drexel at the Palestra on Dec. 22, plays 18 of its final 19 games against AAC teams. The lone exception is a Jan. 19 home game against Penn.
The beginning of the conference schedule is especially difficult with Temple also visiting Wichita State (7-5) on Sunday and then facing Houston (13-0) Jan. 9 at home.
“For all 18 [conference] games we are going to be challenged greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “It is a terrific basketball conference and we will have our hands full in the league this season.”
The first game should be especially challenging. UCF’s two losses have been to Florida Atlantic at home and at Missouri, by a combined total of three points. (Temple earned an impressive 79-77 win at Missouri on Nov. 27).
UCF has won four in a row since a 64-62 overtime loss at Missouri.
“They were picked to win our league for a reason,” Dunphy said about the Knights.
UCF has a towering presence in 7-foot-6 center Tacko Fall, who leads the AAC with an average of 3.3 blocked shots per game. He is averaging 10.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
“They have an X-factor in Tacko Fall, who is a tough guys to handle on both ends,” Dunphy said. “From a defensive standpoint he has the ability to change a game.”
Senior guard B.J. Taylor, the AAC preseason player of the year, is averaging a team-high 17.5 points, while Aubrey Dawkins, a 6-6 redshirt junior and son of coach Johnny Dawkins, averages 15.6 points.
Temple senior guard Shizz Alston has been playing like an AAC player-of-the-year candidate.
Alston is averaging 19.3 points, 5.4 assists and is shooting 38.5 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the foul line to lead the Owls in all four categories.
Quinton Rose is averaging 16.3 points while 6-4 sophomore Nate Pierre-Louis is the other double-figure scorer, averaging 11.9 points. Pierre-Louis is also the Owls' top defender, who often guards the opponent’s best perimeter player.
A key for the Owls as they begin their conference season is improving on their three-point shooting. The Owls are shooting 29.7 percent from beyond the arc.