PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Temple celebrated its A-10 title with everything but net.
Given the opportunity to climb a ladder and snip those white strands like championship teams always do, the Owls simply said, no thanks.
Winning the regular season Atlantic 10 was a wonderful feat for a team picked to finish fifth in the preseason conference poll. The title just wasn’t deemed scissor-worthy.
“We said that’s all fine and dandy, but our main goal at the end of this season was to win another A-10 tournament championship,” guard Ryan Brooks said. “That’s where our focus is right now.”
They’ll bust out the shears in Atlantic City, N.J., if they can win their third straight A-10 tourney title. Unlike the last two seasons when the Owls (26-5, 14-2) needed the championship to make the NCAA tournament, this year’s team was assured weeks ago of finding a line on the bracket when the 65-team field is announced Sunday.
The No. 17 Owls enjoyed their best season in nearly a decade. They cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2001 and beat a top-5 team in Villanova for the first time since 2000. Temple also won the city series title.
All those achievements helped them earn a share of the A-10 championship with Xavier and the No. 1 seed in the tournament. The Owls will play St. Bonaventure (15-15, 7-9) on Friday and hope to land alongside UMass (1992-1996) as the only teams to win three straight A-10 conference tournament championships.
“I think we’ve been waiting for the postseason to come for some time now, and now that it’s here, we’re ready to go,” Brooks said.
Temple is rolling at the right time. On the strength of one of the stingiest defenses in basketball, the Owls have won seven straight games and nine of 10. They’re in prime position to extend that run on Friday: Temple has beat the Bonnies 12 straight times and won by 18 points in the lone meeting this season on Feb. 17.
“Everybody wants to beat us right now,” guard Juan Fernandez said. “We’re the first seed, we’re a ranked team and everybody wants to play Temple and beat Temple.”
Fernandez, Ryan Brooks and Lavoy Allen have offensively anchored an Owls team that was expected to have trouble piling up points following the loss of former A-10 scoring champion Dionte Christmas. Yet, Fernandez and Brooks have taken turns hurting teams from the outside and Allen has morphed into a dominant force inside. Allen had the first 20-rebound game by an Owl since the 1970s and averaged a double-double on the season (11.7 points; 10.8 rebounds).
Fran Dunphy, the A-10 coach of the year and a candidate for national coach of the year honors, expects a defense that allowed only a minuscule 56.8 points a game to carry the Owls if they want to play deep into March.
“I’ve watched a lot of these championship games coming down the stretch and there’s not a lot of offense that’s going on out there,” Dunphy said. “There’s a lot of defense. There’s a bunch of guys making plays.”
The Owls have won more games (49) and championships (eight) than any team in A-10 history. The Owls are 10-1 as the overall top seed, winning the A-10 title in 1990, 1988, 1987.
The last two years, however, has proved Temple can take the title from any seed. It’s just more fun being No. 1.
“It’s totally different because last year we were the underdog and everybody was expecting for us to lose,” Fernandez said. “Now everybody is waiting for Temple to be the champion.”
Then they can cut down the nets.