STEVE LAPPAS, the former Villanova coach and current TV announcer, said yesterday that there is no worse feeling at this time of year than to be on the NCAA bubble.
Temple, which sits squarely on that mythical bubble, would tend to disagree. After going 9-22 last year, the Owls are in a much better place, despite the uncertainty. The Owls are at least on the selection committee's radar after Saturday's win over Connecticut upped their record to 22-9.
Temple is the fourth seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament in Hartford and will play No. 5 Memphis on Friday (2 p.m., ESPN2) in a quarterfinal game. The prevailing thought is that their resumé needs at least one more win. Two more victories would make them a virtual lock, especially if that second win is over top-seeded and 22nd-ranked SMU in the semifinals. The Owls lost twice to Larry Brown's Mustangs this season.
"I don't really pay attention to it," senior guard Will Cummings said after scoring a season-high 23 points against UConn. "The only time I see it is when watching ESPN and you see Joe Lunardi come up. It's up to [the committee] to decide."
Lunardi, a renowned bracketologist, has the Owls among his last four teams in and meeting Indiana in a play-in game in Dayton. No Temple team has ever won at least 20 games and missed the NCAA Tournament since the field expanded in 1979.
"All we can do is go out and play basketball and not really leave it up to them," Cummings continued. "We can just make a statement to say [we belong]."
The Owls won at Memphis, 61-60, on Feb. 7 when Josh Brown hit a short jumper with 2.4 seconds left.
They had a chance at the 3-seed in the American, but lost out on a tiebreaker to Cincinnati. The 3-seed's first game will be against the winner of Connecticut and South Florida on UConn's home court, so getting the 4-seed probably is a good thing.
Temple has won three in a row and 10 of its last 12.
But since winning the last of three consecutive Atlantic 10 titles in 2010, the Owls are just 1-4 in conference tournament play. They were one-and-done the last 3 years, something that almost surely will need to change if they want to play in the NCAAs.
"When I was at Penn, I never got a chance to be in a conference tournament," coach Fran Dunphy said. "It's an awesome experience to be in a conference tournament. Whatever happens there, hopefully we'll be able to continue to play basketball somehow, some way, some place."