A trying season for Dunphy and Owls

Posted: January 27, 2014

On the coffee table in Fran Dunphy's Temple basketball office, underneath a book about legendary Owls coach John Chaney, another on the divine nature of basketball, and one that tells you to Get in the Game - the Game of Life, there is a slim volume titled, Doing More With Less.

Hmmm.

"That was a business thing that somebody sent me," Dunphy said, batting away the notion that anything in the book might help a shorthanded basketball squad break a seven-game losing streak.

Dunphy isn't the type to allow excuses. A former point guard was dumbfounded years ago when Dunphy told him he had "allowed" himself to be pushed out of bounds. What did the coach mean? He was pushed out of bounds. That's not the way Dunphy looked at it. (Translation: All college basketball coaches are crazy, in their own way.)

So no, Temple's coach isn't going to use having only nine scholarship players as an excuse. He also doesn't deny the obvious, that it's been a real issue. And he's the coach who put together the team that has only nine scholarship players, which became more of a factor as injuries hit the Owls this season.

So if you're slamming Dunphy to your roommate or a friend in the next seat or on Twitter, he gets it. The man makes good money. He's considered one of the top college basketball coaches in the country by his peers and anybody else who knows anything about the game. But this season won't be entered as part of the evidence.

"My job is to not disappoint them," Dunphy said of Temple's fans. "At this point, we have disappointed our fan base this year. I'm not happy about it. We're working hard to reverse that."

A short roster is not the only reason Temple is 5-12 and still searching for its first victory in the American Athletic Conference. Its seventh game in the new league is Sunday at the Liacouras Center against AAC front-runner, No. 15 Cincinnati. Since a Dec. 4 win over St. Joseph's, the Owls have won just once, against similarly undermanned LIU Brooklyn.

The Owls simply haven't been good enough defensively. Temple is last in the conference in scoring defense, field-goal percentage defense, and rebound margin.

"When you're good defensively, it increases your margin for error," Dunphy said Friday afternoon. "We've had no margin for error."

The short roster has forced Dunphy to play more zone than he ever has. He's also cut down on going hard in practice, not wanting to risk more injuries, he said. The time has been shifted to more film work.

And maybe the substandard defense has made the short roster even more of an issue. Good defensive teams can get away with playing fewer players than teams that must get to a higher score to win games.

Could Dunphy have recruited differently so Temple didn't end up in this predicament. "Yeah, probably," Dunphy said. "That's not my MO. We've always had 13 guys on scholarship. We want to give as many people an opportunity as possible. It's sort of perfect storm-ish. It was just the way the year figured itself out. We needed to stay healthy, and we didn't do that, in terms of the depth."

He was a bit more specific about the scholarships. With Texas transfer Jaylen Bond sitting out, the Owls officially are at 10. Dunphy had hoped former UMass star Jesse Morgan, now a Temple student, would have been ruled eligible to play by the NCAA, but it didn't happen. Morgan is eligible for the first semester next season and it is hoped an appeal will get him a full season, Dunphy said.

So they were holding out No. 11 for him for a long time. No. 12 was to be former Camden Catholic guard Kyle Green, but Green left the fold over the summer for what he termed "personal family reasons."

Dunphy had been holding out one scholarship into April, with a couple of prospects in mind. Prospects the Owls didn't land.

"We had to get lucky with a kid last year," is the way Dunphy put it. He obviously meant holding out hope Vaux gem Rysheed Jordan would choose Temple. Instead, Jordan is at St. John's. Any specific regrets Dunphy has on the recruiting front are being kept to himself. (Depth shouldn't be an issue next season.)

In the AAC preseason poll, Temple was picked fifth only out of respect for Dunphy's track record, which includes six straight trips to the NCAA tournament in seven seasons at the school, after nine NCAA appearances at Penn. (Two straight losing seasons? Only his first two at Penn.)

With five of Temple's top seven players gone, this was destined to be the bump in the road. But it has turned into a pothole the Owls can't escape.

Temple's coach points to another book on top of the other stack on his office coffee table, about looking past your personal fortunes, noting how "sometimes when times get tough, you think about yourself a little bit too much."

That sounds like a goal for the rest of the Owls' season, since it has proven impossible to do more with less.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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