Of the 351 head coaches in Division-1 men's college hoops, you'd be hard-pressed to find a single one that wouldn't immediately sign up to have his team playing their best basketball this time of year, with conference play more than halfway completed and Selection Sunday roughly a month out.
UConn's Kevin Ollie and Temple's Fran Dunphy are no exceptions, nor should they be, as both the Huskies (17-6, 7-3 AAC) and Owls (14-8, 8-3 AAC) have won three straight games and six of seven overall entering Thursday's primetime matchup at the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia (7:00, ESPN2).
An explicit statement? Sure, but not one lacking validity- the Huskies have outscored UCF, Memphis, and ECU by a combined 64 points during the three-game win streak, aided by freshman point guard Jalen Adams's emergence (10.3 PPG, 4.3 APG, 58%FG last 3 games) and the return of center Amida Brimah, who missed eleven games with a broken finger.
Dunphy was less blunt when asked if Temple had something special going on, but he didn't exactly sidestep the question.
"Well I hope so," said Dunphy, who recently passed John Chaney for the most wins in Philadelphia Big 5 history. "That's a great question, I hope we do. I hope that we can sustain here, but we have so many really tough games left to play, starting on Thursday with UConn."
Temple certainly has very little room for error as it pertains to the NCAA Tournament picture. The Owls' three-game winning streak is by a combined 13 points- they've already played 10 games decided by 5 points or less, going 6-4 in those nailbiters. Plus, between a non-conference RPI of 165, zero non-conference wins of note, and three losses to teams outside of the RPI Top-100, Temple has some serious work to do to get back in the bubble discussion.
As if Thursday night didn't carry enough implications, current AAC leader SMU is banned from postseason play, meaning UConn-Temple also represents a battle for the top seed in the conference tournament, with the Owls currently holding a slim half-game lead over the Huskies.
The Numbers Game
That's the shooting percentage that Temple held UConn to back on January 5th, when the Owls beat the then-No. 23 Huskies 55-53 in Hartford. The 31.6 FG% mark is UConn's second-worst this year, aided by a 4-20 showing from behind the arc- Temple holds its opponents to a sub-30% clip from behind the line, 15th-best in the country.
Daniel Hamilton, Sterling Gibbs, and Rodney Purvis combined to shoot just 7-of-32 from the field, including 4-of-16 from three. In the closing seconds of a tie game, it was Temple's junior point guard Josh Brown who hit the game-winning jumper. Known more for his facilitating skills and his impressive 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, Brown finished with 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the victory.
As in the number of transition points UConn scored in that first meeting this year. Temple outscored the Huskies on the fast break 7-0 in what was a grind-it-out, 62-possession affair (the average game this season features 69 possessions each). That's ideal for Temple, whose pace ranks 294th out of 351 D-1 schools.
While UConn hasn't been all that much more "pedal to the medal" (ranking 228th in Adjusted tempo, per KenPom), getting out in transition has clearly been a bigger emphasis for the Huskies lately, as their 45 total fast-break points over the last three games has shown.
Whether or not UConn can get out and run on Thursday will play a major factor in the final outcome, and that'll be quite a challenge considering Temple's 2nd-lowest turnover rate nationally. Only Notre Dame takes better care of the rock!
Temple guard Quenton DeCosey has flown under the national radar for three years now, but it's time to stop sleeping on the New Jersey native. A legitimate AAC Player of the Year candidate, the senior is averaging 16.5 PPG on 44.5% shooting from the field overall this season, but has been even more productive in conference play to the tune of 18.3 PPG on 45.3% FG despite the step-up in competition.
A shrewd scorer, DeCosey rarely gets sped up, knocks down two threes a game, and uses a phenomenal shot-fake to set up his midrange or get to the foul line. He's also one of the rare scorers out there that lets the game come to him: Against Tulsa last week, DeCosey was held scoreless in the first half, taking only four shots. He proceeded to drop 21 in second half/overtime of a four-point win.
While DeCosey has many capable partners in Jaylen Bond, Devin Coleman, and others, it's sophomore Obi Enechionyia that has evolved into Temple's #2 option of late. Over his last four contests, Enechionyia has put up 15.5 PPG on over 12 shots per. In the four games prior, he averaged just over 5 points per game on around 6 shots! A major boost in minutes midseason is uncommon for a team beginning to find itself, but the Owls are simply better when Enechionyia is aggressive and knocking down shots from the perimeter (10-23 3FG over last 4 games).
Thursday is the 13th all-time meeting between UConn and Temple, with the series tied at six wins apiece. Temple is looking to make it four straight over the Huskies dating back to last year.
What Else Does KenPom Tell Us?
- For what it's worth, KenPom has really begun to buy in on the Huskies, who are ranked 19th now due in large part to the nation's third-best Adjusted defensive efficiency. Temple is 95th, per KenPom.
- Neither team relies on the foul line to generate points: Temple ranks 335th (again, out of 351) in free throw rate, while UConn ranks just 306th despite placing in the Top-10 in free-throw percentage (76.4%).
- UConn leads the AAC (conference games only) in defensive efficiency, two-point field goal defense, and FT%.