Fran Dunphy

Fran Dunphy
(AP Photo/Laurence Kesterson)

American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview and Postseason Awards

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There may not be another conference in America with as much on the line from a bubble standpoint this week as the American Athletic Conference. With SMU on the sidelines as a result of NCAA penalties, the other ten members convene in Orlando with the top dogs all looking to sew up a bid to the NCAA tournament. Winning the automatic bid is the best way to do that, but with four teams harboring realistic hopes of earning an at-large bid some will likely have to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Temple managed to win the regular season title outright, but there’s still some work for Fran Dunphy’s team to do. The two-seed is Houston, whose non-conference slate likely puts them in a position where they need to win out in Orlando, and seeds three through five (Tulsa, Cincinnati and Connecticut) all find themselves on the bubble. That should make for an intense four days in Orlando, and only the winner will be able to breathe easy in the wait for the announcement of the NCAA tournament field.

The Bracket

american

When: March 10-13

Where: Amway Center, Orlando

Final: March 13, 3:15 p.m. (ESPN)

Favorite: Temple

The Owls managed to win their first outright regular season conference title since 2012, when they were still in the Atlantic 10. This year’s group has done it with defense, as in conference games they ranked third in field goal percentage defense and first in three-point percentage defense. Offensively senior guard Quenton DeCosey’s led the way, with forward Obi Enechionyia being a tough matchup due to his ability to step outside at 6-foot-9 and emerging as one of the American’s most improved players. Add in contributors such as forward Jaylen Bond and point guard Josh Brown, and Temple has enough to win the tournament. Close games shouldn’t cause much concern either, as in conference games decided by five points or less they’re 7-2.

And if they lose?: Houston

The Cougars arrive in Orlando as one of the hottest teams in the American, as they’ve won nine of their last 11 games (6-1 in their last seven). Forwards Damyean Dotson and Devonta Pollard combined to average 28.3 points per game in American play, and on the perimeter Rob Gray Jr. is the team’s leading scorer (16.3 ppg overall) and the point guard tandem of Purdue transfer Ronnie Johnson and freshman Galen Robinson Jr. has been a positive as well. Kelvin Sampson’s rebuilding job has gone well to this point, and it wouldn’t be a shock if they landed the automatic bid.

Other Contenders:

  • Tulsa: Tulsa’s backcourt is very good, with James Woodard, Shaq Harrison and Pat Birt Jr. being the leaders. A key for Tulsa will be finishing defensive possessions with a rebound, as they ranked ninth in the American in defensive rebounding percentage (67.7) in conference games.
  • Cincinnati: The Bearcats are tough, and only UConn was better in league play when it comes to field goal percentage defense. With Troy Caupain running the point and Gary Clark in the front court, Mick Cronin has the pieces needed to make a run.
  • Connecticut: Kevin Ollie’s team led the American in field goal percentage defense, limiting teams to 38.4 percent shooting in conference games. But the offense has sputtered at times. If Daniel Hamilton looks to take over consistently, making plays for himself and others, this can be a dangerous team in Orlando.

Sleeper: Memphis

Josh Pastner’s Tigers have the league’s top scoring duo in forwards Dedric Lawson and Shaq Goodwin, and there’s talent on the perimeter as well. But can they put it all together over the course of three days? That remains to be seen.

The Bubble Dwellers:

  • Temple: Opening with either East Carolina or USF won’t do much to bolster Temple’s argument for inclusion. But a loss to either would be damaging. Take care of business there and the Owls should be OK.
  • Houston: The Cougars likely need to win the automatic bid, thanks to the weakness of their non-conference schedule. They have wins over SMU and Temple on their résumé, but that may not be enough.
  • Tulsa: They face Memphis in the quarterfinals, and that’s a win Frank Haith’s team will need to get. They did pick up wins over SMU (in Dallas), Cincinnati and Temple last month, and there’s also the early season win over fellow bubble team Wichita State.
  • Cincinnati: Beat UConn in the quarterfinals Friday, which would be their third win over the Huskies this season. The Bearcats have wins over bubble teams George Washington and VCU to their credit, but there would be a lot less stress if they’d been able to close out Iowa State (81-79 loss) back on December 22.
  • Connecticut: Beat Cincinnati in the quarterfinals and that should sew things up for the Huskies. At the very least a win should get them another shot at a Temple team that swept the regular season series.

American Player of the Year: Nic Moore, SMU

Moore won the award last season and he’d be a good choice for the 2016 edition of the award as well. The senior point guard led the way for a team that was ranked for most of the season despite being ineligible for postseason play, averaging 15.9 points and 4.9 assists per game. A good case can be made for Temple’s Quenton DeCosey as well.

American Coach of the Year: Fran Dunphy, Temple

Sure, this can be seen as giving the award to the man whose team was picked to finish sixth in the preseason coaches poll. But Dunphy deserves this honor just as much for the way the Owls played once out of non-conference play. Temple began play in the American with an overall record of 5-5, only to take a considerable leap forward in conference play. Led by Dunphy and seniors DeCosey and Jaylen Bond, Temple won the American outright with a conference record of 14-4.

First-Team All-AAC:

  • Nic Moore, SMU (POY)
  • Quenton DeCosey, Temple: If Moore isn’t the choice for league POY then it’s probably DeCosey, who was the leading option on the American’s best team.
  • Troy Caupain, Cincinnati: Caupain averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 assists per game in conference play. He was also fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2).
  • James Woodard, Tulsa: Woodard led the Golden Hurricane with an average of 15.6 points per game, ranking sixth in the conference in scoring.
  • Dedric Lawson, Memphis: The conference’s best freshman, Lawson paired up with Shaq Goodwin to form the highest scoring tandem in the American. And to think, he was originally supposed to be in the 2016 freshman class.

Second Team All-AAC:

  • Devonta Pollard, Houston
  • Shaq Harrison, Tulsa
  • Daniel Hamilton, Connecticut
  • Gary Clark, Cincinnati
  • Shaq Goodwin, Memphis

Defining moment of the season: Temple hands SMU its first loss of the season

CBT Prediction: Houston continues its recent run of solid play, winning three straight to punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament.

Temple lands three-star point guard

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With two seniors in their perimeter rotation for the 2015-16 season, Temple had some areas to target recruiting-wise in the Class of 2016. Having already received a verbal pledge from one guard in Quinton Rose, Temple landed its second commitment Sunday afternoon in the form of point guard Alani Moore. The 5-foot-10 Moore, a Washington, D.C. native who attends Friendship Collegiate Academy in Maryland, announced the news via Twitter.

Moore, rated as a three-star prospect by Rivals.com, played for the DC Premier grassroots program this summer and also participated in the Under Armour All-American Camp. While Temple doesn’t lack for perimeter options heading into this season, they will be asking “non-traditional” options (most likely Josh Brown and Shawn Alston) to handle the responsibilities.

That approach may very well work out for Fran Dunphy and his staff, but it didn’t mask the need for a lead guard to run the show in the future. That’s where Moore’s commitment comes into play for a program looking to get back to making annual NCAA tournament appearances after missing out in each of the last two seasons. Moore’s court vision and quickness on the ball will help Temple offensively when he arrives on campus in 2016.

Temple will also lose two front court options in Jaylen Bond and Devontae Watson at the end of the 2015-16 season, so they’ll need to address this area in recruiting as well. The Owls have three scholarships available for 2016-17, so there’s definitely room to do just that.

Temple beat out Georgia Tech, Massachusetts and Seton Hall for Moore’s verbal pledge.

Three-star combo guard Quinton Rose commits to Temple

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Less than a week after missing out on point guard Tony Carr, Temple landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2016.

Quinton Rose, a 6-foot-5 combo guard from Rochester, New York, verbally committed to Temple Thursday night as first reported by Scout.com. As noted above Rose, who also played for the Albany City Rocks on the Nike EYBL circuit, is Temple’s first commitment and he’s an important one given eventual personnel losses in that area.

Both Quenton DeCosey and Devin Coleman will be seniors in 2015-16, meaning that head coach Fran Dunphy and his staff needed to address this area in recruiting. Rose will help in this regard, joining current freshman Levan Alston as a perimeter option capable of playing either on or off the basketball.

In addition to DeCosey and Coleman the Owls also have to account for senior forwards Jaylen Bond and Devontae Watson, meaning that they’re far from done when it comes to recruiting the 2016 class.

Temple transfer guard to make season debut December 18

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Among the topics discussed by Temple head coach Fran Dunphy at last week’s American Athletic Conference media day was the status of transfer guard Jesse Morgan. Morgan enrolled at Temple in May of 2013, one month removed from being dismissed from the UMass program and four months after he’d suffered a torn ACL in his knee in a game at Saint Louis.

With the NCAA ruling that Morgan had a semester of eligibility remaining to play at Temple he had a choice to make. The options: either play in the first 19 games of the 2014-15 season for the Owls, or play in the final 21 games while also having the opportunity to play in the postseason should the Owls qualify. Wednesday evening it was reported by CBSSports.com that the decision’s been made, with Morgan choosing the latter option.

Morgan will be eligible to play in games beginning with Temple’s game at Delaware on December 18, and he’ll be an important piece for the Owls.

Prior to knee injury, Morgan averaged 13.4 points per game and was also second on the team in steals. During American Athletic Conference media day last week, Dunphy made note of Morgan’s work on the defensive end in preseason practices according to Jake Kaplan of the Philadelphia Daily News.

Once on the court, the Olney High product offers the Owls a long-range shooter and, more notably, another aggressive defender. When the team gathers at the end of each practice, Dunphy likes to read off stats kept from that day’s session. One is deflections, and Morgan owns that category.

“That’s what he adds,” Dunphy said. “He’s a hound on the basketball defensively.”

Morgan is one of two transfer guards who will be eligible to take the floor December 18, with former Clemson guard Devin Coleman being the other. Senior Will Cummings, who averaged 16.8 points and 4.6 assists per game last season and is on the Bob Cousy Award preseason watch list, will lead the way in the backcourt for the Owls.

Three-star forward/center becomes Temple’s third commitment in 2015 class

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Having already landed two perimeter players capable of helping his program immediately when they arrive on campus next season, Temple head coach Fran Dunphy reeled in a third commitment in the Class of 2015 Sunday afternoon.

6-foot-9 power forward/center Ernest Aflakpui, who attends Archbishop Carroll HS in Radnor, Pennsylvania, verbally committed to the Temple program according to Josh Verlin of City of Basketball Love. Aflakpui joins guards Trey Lowe and Levan Alston Jr. in Temple’s 2015 class, and that trio is of high importance for a program looking to rebound from the worst season in school history.

Temple beat out Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s, Rhode Island and VCU for Aflakpui’s commitment.

Aflakpui played for the We R1 grassroots program during the spring/summer, averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest in Under Armour Association play. Among Aflakpui’s teammates this summer were 2015 four-star small forward Derrick Jones (who also attends Archbishop Carroll) and 2016 four-star center Sedee Keita.

Aflakpui’s commitment gives Temple a boost to both its size and depth in the front court, with players such as Texas transfer Jaylen Bond, sophomores Daniel Dingle and Mark Williams, and freshman Obi Enechionyia among the forwards on the current roster who will have eligibility remaining when the Owls’ latest commitment arrives on campus next summer.

Former Temple great returns to join Fran Dunphy’s coaching staff

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Temple head coach Fran Dunphy has added an assistant to his coaching staff, and the addition is very familiar with the tradition of Temple basketball. Aaron McKie, who played three years at the school under John Chaney, was officially announced as Dunphy’s newest assistant on Thursday. With McKie on board Dave Duke, who was an assistant last season, moves into the role of director of player development.

During his three seasons as a player at Temple, McKie scored 1,650 points and was a member of three NCAA tournament teams. He currently ranks sixth on the school’s all-time scoring list. With McKie’s storied career at Temple, not to mention a lengthy NBA career, his voice will be an important one as the Owls look to rebound from what was the worst season in school history (9-22 record).

“Aaron McKie is not only Temple Basketball, but he is Philadelphia Basketball,” Dunphy said in the release. “His name still resonates in the city, as he played his high school, college and professional ball in Philly.  He is a tremendous representative of Temple University and possesses an astute basketball mind which will serve to help the program in so many ways.”

The expectation throughout the spring was that a Temple alum would be joining Dunphy’s staff, with the person in question being Rick Brunson. One reason that was expected to occur was the fact that Brunson’s son Jalen is one of the best players in the Class of 2015, and Temple is one of the finalists on Jalen’s list. However that potential hire fell through, with Rick running into legal trouble in July.

McKie is a good hire, given the experience mentioned above. In addition to Chaney he also played for Larry Brown, with Brown being the head coach of an Allen Iverson-led Philadelphia 76ers team that reached the NBA Finals in 2001. During that season McKie was named NBA Sixth Man of the Year, and he played eight of his 13 professional seasons in Philadelphia.

If McKie can use his experience to help the current Owls develop into better players, the program shouldn’t endure another season like the 2013-14 campaign.