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Disappointed Owls settle for NIT

Temple is bumped from the NCAA field by Wyoming’s win in the Mountain West Tournament.

Temple coach Fran Dunphy was gracious about the Owls not being picked for the NCAA tournament. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Temple coach Fran Dunphy was gracious about the Owls not being picked for the NCAA tournament. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)Read more

FRAN DUNPHY paced around the practice floor at Pearson-McGonigle Hall, Temple's practice facility, while most of the rest of the college basketball world was fixated on the televised NCAA Tournament selection show.

He didn't care to watch.

His team, however, sat inside the film room, watched and awaited its fate.

"I was walking around the gym, just hoping that I would hear a roar of sorts or that my phone would blow up," Dunphy said.

The roar never came, and the only phone call would come from the National Invitation Tournament - Temple (23-10) will host Bucknell (19-14) at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the first round - as the Owls were not selected to the NCAA Tournament's field of 68.

Instead of a celebratory roar, it was one groan after another.

The most audible was the one after UCLA's selection to the tournament was announced. The Bruins (20-13) got an 11-seed and will open with American Conference champion Southern Methodist.

The final murmur of disapproval came as the last couple of teams in the tournament were being announced. It came down to the last two teams, with two No. 11s meeting in first round in Dayton, Ohio, as the last two teams in the field. Those spots went to BYU and Ole Miss.

It turns out Temple was the last team out of the tournament, according to the NCAA selection committee chairman, Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes. Barnes said 25-9 Wyoming's win over 26-8 San Diego State - an at-large shoo-in - in Saturday's Mountain West final was the one that prevented Temple from getting into the tournament.

"It would have been nice to be in there, but the committee has a job to do and they're given that charge and we're going to have to live with it," said Dunphy, who was looking for his seventh bid at Temple in nine seasons.

"It's mentally draining, just sitting around watching the show, and to not hear your name called just adds to it. It's just like a slap in the face pretty much," senior point guard Will Cummings said.

Saturday's 69-56 loss to SMU in the conference semifinals, the third in three meetings, loomed large for the Owls in yesterday's selection process. Temple had just two wins over teams in the field of 68, a blowout win over then-No. 10 Kansas at the Liacouras Center and a win over AAC foe Cincinnati.

Kansas is a No. 2 seed in the tournament and Cincy an 8-seed.

The Owls also beat last year's national champion, Connecticut, twice this year. But it wasn't enough in the eyes of the committee.

"You work so hard all year, put together some runs during the year, and just to not hear your name called is a disappointment," Cummings said. "You think you have a good enough resume, better than some teams in the tournament. It's disappointment, a lack of respect, that's the vibe that was in the locker room."

So what was Temple lacking?

First, the Owls - coming off a 9-22 campaign - started the season without transfers Jesse Morgan and Devin Coleman. They picked up four losses during that stretch, two of which were to Villanova and Duke, both No. 1 seeds. The two other losses during that stretch might have hurt worse: to St. Joe's and UNLV.

The Owls were missing that third or fourth big win, apparently. Other than the Kansas win, the only other "good" win came against Cincinnati, and that was at home. Temple lost twice in the regular season to SMU and Tulsa, the AAC's top two teams, and was routed at Cincy, a team that finished tied for third in the conference with Temple.

Temple finished the season with a 9-10 record against Top 200 RPI opponents and a 14-0 mark against teams with an RPI above 200.

"As you look at it, we're probably one win short of being in," Dunphy said. "If we could have beaten SMU any one of the three times, could we have been in? Probably. And there probably was another win or so along the way that we could have gotten that would have gotten us where we wanted to go."

The Owls now have to, as Cummings said, "re-prepare" themselves for the NIT, for which they are a No. 1 seed. Wednesday's game will mark the first time for Dunphy to coach in the NIT and the first time Temple will be in it since John Chaney's last season, in 2005-06. That Owls team lost in the first round to visiting Akron, 80-73, in overtime.