MEMPHIS - After years of having the Atlantic 10 bull's-eye firmly on his team's collective chest, Fran Dunphy showed up for his first American Athletic Conference Basketball Media Day Wednesday at FedEx Forum, and found himself laying in the weeds. His Owls were picked a relatively distant fifth in the 10-team preseason coach's poll.
"Laying in the weeds is good," said Dunphy, who has his youngest squad in his eight years at Temple. And he comes into a hybrid league that has a reigning national champion in Louisville (if only for this season), recent national champ in Connecticut, former Conference USA power Memphis and perennial Big East contender Cincinnati.
"The A-10 was a spectacular basketball league, and when they added Butler and VCU [last year] it made for a huge challenge," said Dunphy, who came to Memphis as a solo act. "This league will be a huge challenge as well, especially with the level of coaching and talent that's here, especially at guard."
Four of the five preseason first-team all-conference players are guards, led by Player of the year pick Russ Smith of Louisville. Cardinals' coach Rick Pitino said flatly, "this league has the best guard tandems in the country."
The Owls lost five seniors from a 24-10 team that tested top seed Indiana before falling in an NCAA third-round game. The group included A-10 Player of the Year Khalif Wyatt (20.5 ppg), and accounted for 73 percent of the offense. To keep up, they are looking for 6-foot-5 guard Dalton Pepper, a West Virginia transfer who was a bench player last year, to flash the 2,207-point form from his Pennsbury High days. "We've got to have a big season from him," Dunphy said of his lone senior.
The two returning starters are 6-9 junior forward Anthony Lee (9.8 ppg, team-best 6.9 rebounds) and 6-2 junior point guard Will Cummings (5.8 ppg). Sophomore guard Quenton DeCosey, who had his rookie moments, notably a 13-point game against Duke, must also be more of a consistent scoring force.
"We're going to have to be a team with five players who score in double figures," Dunphy said.
Dunphy, whose team has made the last six NCAA tournaments, said the Owls' summer tour with games against club teams in France and Italy was a good building block.
"It gave us a head start in terms of players understanding their roles and what we need them to do to get better."
Preseason Coaches Poll
1. Louisville (9 first-place votes) 81 points;
2. Connecticut (1) 69; 3. Memphis 68;
4. Cincinnati 58; 5. Temple 40; 6. SMU 39;
7. Houston 28; 8. South Florida 27;
9. Central Florida 24; 10. Rutgers 16.
Player of the year: Russ Smith Sr., G, Louisville.
Rookie of the year: Keith Frazier, Fr., G, SMU
First Team: Russ Smith G Louisville*; Shabazz Napier G UConn*; Joe Jackson G Memphis*; Sean Kilpatrick G Cincinnati; Chane Behanan F Louisville.
Second Team: Isaiah Sykes G UCF; Ryan Boatright G UConn; TaShawn Thomas F Houston; Montrezl Harrell F Loiusville; Anthony Collins G USF; Victor Rudd F USF.