They were so close to the Big Dance, and the disappointment was evident Sunday evening for the Temple Owls, left out of the NCAA tournament as the 69th choice in a 68-team field.
The Owls instead must settle for their NIT consolation prize. They are a No. 1 seed and will host Bucknell (19-14) in their NIT opener Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Liacouras Center
The players vowed to be ready for the NIT, but Temple's senior leader, point guard Will Cummings, spilled his guts when he was asked if it would take a while to realize that the opportunity to be part of March Madness is gone.
"Honestly, it is never going to settle in," Cummings said in a measured but disappointed tone. "I will always have that chip on my shoulder, that anger, just knowing that we didn't get in with all the hard work we put in, and then try to build our resume."
Making matters worse is that the Owls were the first team out. During a conference call after the selections were announced, Scott Barnes, chairman of the Division I men's basketball committee and the athletic director at Utah State, said Wyoming's 45-43 upset of San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference championship game earned the Cowboys an automatic bid and kept Temple out.
If Wyoming had not won, would Temple be in? "Yes," Barnes said.
Temple finished 23-10, but what was obvious was the lack of respect for the American Athletic Conference. Only two AAC teams were selected.
Regular-season and conference tournament champion Southern Methodist is a No. 6 seed in the South Regional. Cincinnati is a No. 8 seed in the Midwest.
This is the conference that includes last year's NCAA champion, Connecticut. Last season, SMU was considered among the biggest NCAA snubs, and now it is Temple.
None of that makes Temple feel any better.
"We were probably one win short of being in," coach Fran Dunphy said.
Temple's RPI ranking of 34 (according to NCAA.com) was the second best not to get in. Only Colorado State, with an RPI ranking of 30, was a higher non-NCAA participant.
Barnes acknowledged Temple's strong RPI but said the Owls fell short in other areas, including "their resumé, just two top-50 wins, and losses against UNLV and St. Joe's."
UNLV had a 114 RPI ranking and St. Joseph's, which beat the Owls, 58-56, on Dec. 3, had a 177 RPI ranking.
Temple's Jesse Morgan, a key contributor, had to sit out the first 10 games because of NCAA transfer rules. Temple went 6-4 in those games, including the St. Joseph's and UNLV losses. Barnes said the transfer situation was taken into consideration when evaluating Temple.
Even a stunning 25-point win over Kansas at the Wells Fargo Center wasn't enough for Temple. Now the Owls will do their best to regroup and make the best of a secondary tournament even though they feel they were owed a ticket to the Big Dance.
Wyoming's win in the Mountain West final for the conference automatic bid knocked Temple out of the NCAA tournament. The Owls also lost out to UCLA, which received the 11th seed in the South Regional, and BYU and Ole Miss, which face off Tuesday in the West Regional in the 11th-seed first-round game in Dayton, Ohio. Here is a comparison of the four teams, with records, strength of schedule, and RPI ranking.
UCLA 20-13 1-7 1-1 3-2 29 48
Ole Miss 20-12 1-2 2-3 6-3 53 60
BYU 23-9 1-3 0-1 3-2 74 36
TEMPLE 23-10 1-5 1-3 5-0 60 34