The Opponent: Temple Owls
Date: December 7, 2021
Time: 7:00 PM CT on SEC Network+
Last year: 5-11 (4-10 AAC), 143rd in KenPom
Aaron McKie, former Temple star and NBA veteran, took over Temple’s program prior to the 2019-20 season after having been an assistant under Fran Dunphy for five seasons. Temple actually made the tournament in Dunphy’s final season, losing to Belmont in a First Four game, but they’ve gone 19-28 in McKie’s two seasons with the 2020-21 season being abbreviated by COVID-19 — the Owls played just a single nonconference game.
I don’t know the particulars of the Temple program, but returns have diminished under McKie, dropping from 69th in Dunphy’s final season to 115th in McKie’s first, then 143rd last year. Then again, Temple employed a grand total of two coaches in the 37 years preceding McKie’s tenure; then again, those two were a legend (John Chaney) and a reasonably successful followup (Dunphy.) So who knows how patient Temple will be with a coach who may not fit either of those bills.
So, if there’s good news here, Temple was mostly spared from the nationwide exodus to the transfer portal. Just three players left the program over the offseason and all three were seniors — in other words, players the Owls probably expected to lose either way; the fact that they chose to take advantage of the free year of the NCAA to play somewhere else probably didn’t affect their long-term prognosis much. And while two of the three — 6’7” J.P. Moorman (7.3 ppg/5.3 rpg) and 6’7” De’Vondre Perry (7.2 ppg/4.5 rpg) — were technically starters, they were hardly the team’s most important players; both were underwater in terms of Offensive Rating. Sixth man Brendan Barry (6.9 ppg/2.1 rpg) was the team’s best three-point shooter, though.
Well, the team’s top four scorers are back. 6’5” junior Khalif Battle (15.0 ppg/6.4 rpg) only played in 11 games (starting four), but was the team’s leading scorer, albeit a relatively inefficient one. 6’5” sophomore Damian Dunn (13.5 ppg/4.2 rpg) excelled at getting to the foul line as a true freshman but his shooting percentages from the floor were ghastly. 6’9” senior Jake Forrester (9.3 ppg/6.4 rpg) is a good rebounder and low-post scorer who didn’t attempt a single three-pointer last season. 6’5” sophomore Jeremiah Williams (9.3 ppg/4.1 apg) functioned as the team’s point guard last year and was the one player of the four to post an above-water Offensive Rating.
In an unusual twist, the Owls’ bench players stuck around. 6’8” sophomore Nick Jourdain (2.6 ppg/1.8 rpg), 6’6” sophomore Quincy Ademokoya (1.6 ppg/0.6 rpg), 6’2” junior Tai Strickland (2.0 ppg/1.0 rpg), and 6’9” junior Arashma Parks (0.5 ppg/1.6 rpg) apparently believed enough in McKie and/or their future prospects for playing time at Temple to not hit the transfer portal, which says something but I’m not entirely sure what. Anyway, somebody will have to replace the three departed players who all had significant roles last season.
Aaron McKie is building this program the old-fashioned way, damnit. Temple only jumped into the transfer portal for one player, 6’10” sophomore Emmanuel Okpomo, who showed some upside as a rim-protector in one season at Wake Forest. Aside from that, he brought in a pair of freshmen in 6’1” Hysier Miller (#268 in the 247 Sports composite) and 6’7” Zach Hicks (#279.) But this probably isn’t a team that’s going to depend on newcomers.
This season is really a bet on whether Temple’s key players last year are better than what they showed in 2020-21, or if they’re just marginal AAC players who can put up numbers on a mediocre team. If the former, Temple will probably join SMU, UCF, and Wichita State in the AAC’s second tier behind Memphis and Houston, and they might be an NIT team; if the latter, well, they’re not going to make a real postseason tournament. Because, really, there isn’t much you can point to in terms of newcomers as reasons why Temple will be better this season: the two freshmen are probably not game-changers, and the lone incoming transfer figures to be a role player.
That’s kind of a fun zig when everyone else is zagging in modern college basketball, I guess: McKie has his guys and he clearly believes in them, instead of let’s say encouraging to go elsewhere so that he can bring in better players. The visit to Memorial Gym on December 7 probably won’t be a tossup for Vanderbilt; the Commodores should be favored in that game, but it won’t be an automatic win by any stretch.