|Micheal Eric :: John Raoux/AP |
Fran Dunphy finally got over the hump last season with his first NCAA tournament win in 17 years. Now, it's time for Temple to take the next step and reach its first Sweet 16 since 2001. And with only one key player gone -- big man Lavoy Allen -- the Owls are well-positioned to make a run. Without Allen, the Owls will rely heavily on senior 6-foot-11 center Micheal Eric, who averaged 7.1 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in 20 minutes last year before missing the final 10 games with a knee injury. He has improved every year he's been at Temple and appears ready to become one of the best defensive big men in the Atlantic 10.
Joining Eric in the frontcourt will be Rahlir Jefferson, a 6-6 forward who averaged 5.6 points and 5.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore. Jefferson is a long, athletic combo forward who specializes in defense. He only shot 55.7 percent from the free throw line, but he can score inside and knock down mid-range jumpers. Jefferson is often matched up with the opposing team's best forward.
Anthony Lee is a 6-9 big man who redshirted last year as a freshman. He will back up Eric and Jefferson and eventually could play his way into the starting lineup. But the Owl's strength will be in the backcourt with a bunch of reliable options -- junior Khalif Wyatt and seniors Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore and Scootie Randall.
Fernandez is the team's starting point guard. The Argentinean was hampered by a knee injury for much of last season, which affected his performance. After a superb sophomore year, his scoring average, field goal percentage and three-point percentage decreased as a junior. If Fernandez can return to his sophomore form, he can carry Temple far.
Moore and Randall are the Owls' best scorers. When they were on top of their game, Temple was nearly unbeatable in the Atlantic 10. But Randall suffered a foot injury that prevented him from playing in seven of the final nine games. He returned for the NCAA tournament but came off the bench in a limited role, playing only six minutes in the win against Penn State and one minute in the double-overtime loss to San Diego State.
Wyatt emerged as a double-figure scorer after playing in only 10 games as a freshman. He led the team by shooting 42.1 percent from three-point range and he gives the Owls yet another scoring option on the wing. He will likely start the year as the Owls' sixth man.
"Our guard play will probably be our strength," Wyatt says. "We'll probably be able to score with anyone in the country. We just have to focus on getting stops, and we're usually pretty good at that."
There's little doubt that Temple will compete for an Atlantic 10 championship and make it back to the NCAA tournament for the fifth straight year. But that's not enough for Dunphy and his veteran club. After finally winning a game in the NCAAs, this experienced group -- four of the five starters will be seniors -- hopes finally to reach the second weekend of the NCAAs.
Will Cummings (G, Fr.): Pure point guard who will use his quickness and speed to get to the rim.
Anthony Lee (F, Fr.): Long and athletic, will be an asset off the bench for the Owls.
Jimmy McDonnell (F, Fr.): Redshirted last season.