PHILADELPHIA—Temple coach Fran Dunphy swears there’s no deal with The Donald. No superstitious visits to Mack & Manco’s on the boardwalk. He hasn’t buried a secret formula deep in the sandy beaches that he digs out every March.
Yet, every year, the Owls end the weekend as the headline act in Atlantic City.
Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli, a friend and rival, has joked that the Owls are the true basis of the show “Boardwalk Empire.”
Temple has ruled the resort city like no other team, winning the last three Atlantic 10 tournaments. And the Owls—back in the Top 25—will start their bid for No. 4, having won 11 of 12.
“I wish there was a secret and we had every answer covered,” Dunphy said. “We’ve had our run of success. We’re grateful for it and just hoping whoever we play Friday, we’re going to be good enough to go on.”
The No. 24 Owls (24-6) open against La Salle (15-17), a city rival they beat twice this season. The Owls are the No. 2 seed, behind Xavier, and hope this is the year a conference tournament run bleeds into the NCAA tournament.
The Owls have failed to build on their titles and the automatic berth. In fact, Temple hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since 2001, and Dunphy has lost 11 straight tournament games dating back to his time coaching Penn.
Xavier has carried the A-10 banner in late March and has advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 each of the last three years.
The tournament failures have overshadowed the victories in A.C.
“Yeah, definitely,” forward Lavoy Allen said. “All anybody worries out is March Madness and not the last three A-10 championships that we won. Xavier lost in the semifinals the last three years and went to the Sweet 16. They’re still the best team in the A-10.”
This year seems more likely than the last three a new champion is crowned Sunday.
The Owls are down at least one starter in forward Micheal Eric, ruled out for the season in mid-February with a fractured right patella. Guard Scootie Randall, the A-10’s most improved player, hasn’t practiced since he hurt his right foot last month. Randall, listed as questionable, remains optimistic he can play this weekend.
The Owls, however, have the talent to nab the four-peat. Guards Juan Fernandez, the tournament’s most outstanding performer last year, and Ramone Moore, along with Allen, will carry them this weekend.
Allen put his name atop Temple’s career rebounding list, and a strong stretch run gave him averages of 11.8 points and 8.2 rebounds. He finished with 17 points and 13 rebounds in Temple’s loss to then-No. 1 Duke last month.
Allen, a first team All-Atlantic 10 selection, declared for the draft last season but retained his eligibility because he did not hire an agent. His talent has never been questioned—he pulled down 21 rebounds last season at La Salle. But his nonchalant style often has fans and NBA executives wishing he played with more of a motor.
It’s just not his way.
“Guys want me to go out there and scream and yell, but I don’t worry about that,” Allen said. “I just focus on winning, and the last four years, we’ve won a good amount of games.”
Dunphy, of course, doesn’t need Allen to act like he’s always in fifth gear to make smart plays. Because the coach says few players in his career have had a basketball IQ like Allen’s.
“He understands what our team needs and when it needs it,” Dunphy said. “A lot of what he does doesn’t show up in the box score. He’s just so valuable in terms of his positioning and his selfless-style, too. He’s a great team player.”
And he’s on the cusp of finishing his career with four A-10 titles in four seasons.
“I’m not sure what it is,” he said. “Sometimes it’s luck, sometimes we’ve had a couple of really good players. The coaching staff has always prepared us well.”
Turns out, the secret formula isn’t such a mystery.