Temple isn't a newcomer to the big stage in college basketball. The Owls have beaten six ranked teams in the last five seasons, including No. 5 Duke to set off this wild celebrating in January of 2012 on the Wells Fargo Center floor.
TEMPLE ON TAP
OWLS vs. NORTH CAROLINA CBS Sports Network, 7 p.m.
THE SKINNY Season opener for both, they’ll play in the first of two games as part of the Veterans Classic at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Navy will host Florida in the nightcap … Owls finished last season 26-11 and the Tar Heels 26-12. The former comes in unranked (and picked to finish just sixth in the American Athletic Conference) and the latter ranked No. 1 … Temple has faced 16 teams ranked No. 1 and defeated two of them, last time being Cincinnati in 2000 … Owls senior G Quenton DeCosey only needs 13 points to reach 1,000 for his career. He has averaged 12.3 and 15.4 ppg, respectively, each of the past two seasons … UNC All-America candidate Marcus Paige is out with a broken bone in his right hand … The teams have split the six times they’ve met, with UNC prevailing 75-72 the last time in the 1991 NCAA Elite Eight.
THE COACHES - Roy Williams is entering his 13th season at UNC and 332-101 with the Tar Heels, 750-202 overall. - Frank Dunphy is entering his 10th season at Temple and 193-108 with the Owls, 503-271 overall.
THE KEY PLAYERS UNC: 6-10 senior F Brice Johnson (12.9 ppg, 7.8 rpg in 2014-15), 6-10 junior F Kennedy Meeks (11.4, 7.3) and 6-8 sophomore F Justin Jackson (10.4, 3.7). Temple: 6-8 senior F Jaylen Bond (7.9 rpg in 2014-15, tops in AAC), 6-5 senior G Quenton DeCosey (12.3 ppg in 2014-15) and 6-9 sophomore F Obi Enechionyia, who gave a glimpse of possible things to come in last season’s finale (17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in 27 minutes against Miami in the NIT semifinals).
Hey, someone’s gotta do it.
College basketball season starts, teams have to pair up, square off and get after it. It’s normal, natural stuff … and, well, someone’s gotta play No. 1.
Might as well be my Temple Owls.
In this, the greatest fall in memory for those with memories who have some sort of connection or passion linked to the Cherry and White, be they alums such as myself or fans from the North Philly neighborhood, it only stands to reason that Fran Dunphy’s crew would get first crack at North Carolina.
An upset in the offing? Wouldn’t think so, but … you never know.
After witnessing Temple’s football program make a mockery of all those who have mocked it for decades, and mostly for good reason, mind you, for two months and counting now, nothing seems that out of reach anymore. Seriously. Besides, it’s not like the Owls haven’t stood toe-to-toe with better-known, if not better-equipped, teams and somehow found a way to come out on top.
In the last five years alone, the Owls have six wins over ranked teams, including four that were positioned in the top 10: No. 10 Kansas in December 2014 (77-52), No. 3 Syracuse in December 2012 (83-79), No. 5 Duke in January 2012 (78-73) and No. 9 Georgetown in December of 2010 (68-65).
Yours truly had the pleasure of witnessing the court-storming affair against Duke first hand at the Wells Fargo Center, not to mention victories against No. 21 Virginia Commonwealth in March 2013 (84-76) and No. 23 Southern Methodist in February 2014 (71-64).
So, Temple taking on the nation’s best, and even hanging with it, is nothing new. Still, this is North Carolina, and the Tar Heels are ranked No. 1 as the teams tip off the 2015-16 campaign as the opener in tonight’s Veterans Classic at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
The Owls are coming off a 26-11 season that ended in the NIT Tournament semifinals. The Heels’ 26-12 effort ended in the NCAA’s Sweet Sixteen.
UNC has one of the best players in the country in senior combo guard Marcus Paige, only he won’t be part of tonight’s action, having been sidelined by a fractured right hand. But it is loaded just the same, and big. In fact, that may be the Owls’ biggest concern: UNC’s size. The Heels go 6-10, 6-10 and 6-8 across its starting frontcourt with Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and Justin Jackson, all of whom averaged in double figures last season for Roy Williams.
Thing is, Temple ain’t exactly lacking on talent or size, either – with 6-5 guard Quenton DeCosey and bullish 6-8 forward Jaylen Bond able to match up with anyone. The wildcard in this one, though, is Owls sophomore big Obi Enechionyia.
Extremely nimble at 6-9, he almost seems to be like one of those heavyweight fighters able to dance around the ring, super light on the feet, with cat-quick reflexes … only you’re never sure if the knockout punch is part of the repertoire each time out. Enechionyia showed some flashes last season, say, when he’d block a shot on one end of the floor and then finish off an ensuing fastbreak with an electric slam at the other.
Dunphy didn’t exactly give the youngster a lot of minutes, either. That being said, that season-ending loss last spring might have been the real tip-off to this season as Temple’s Big O posted 17 points, 8 rebounds and 5 blocks in that 60-57 loss to Miami at Madison Square Garden.
So, upset, anyone? Hey, it would be nice if someone was able to do it. Especially if it were my Temple Owls.