Stuck In The Middle

The road to the A-10 title has always gone through Temple. But the question following Butler's 83-71 victory over Temple on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse is whether the Owls will be back at the top in their final run through the A-10, or if they might find themselves in an unfamiliar position – the middle of the pack.

In its first 30 years in the Atlantic 10, Temple won 10 regular season championships, nine tournament titles, and lost in the title game seven times. The Owls won 365 league games – that's 90 more than anyone else – and finished with a losing record just twice. And they were rarely in the middle of the pack, winning at least 10 league games in 25 out of 30 years.

What do those numbers mean? Simply this: The road to the A-10 title has always gone through Temple. That went for Gale Catlett, and John Calipari, and Phil Martelli, and Sean Miller.

And so it goes for Brad Stevens.

But the big question following Butler's 83-71 victory over Temple on Saturday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse is whether the Owls will be back at the top in their final run through the A-10, or if they might find themselves in an unfamiliar position – the middle of the pack.

The numbers say Coach Fran Dunphy's squad has a hill to climb.

Now 2-3 in league play, the Owls are currently tied for 10th place.

Following a 6-0 start, they've gone 7-6 in their past 13 games.

Three weeks ago, they were 10-2 and held a late lead at Kansas. But they failed to hold the lead, and since then, everything has been a struggle.

The starting lineup has changed. And changed again. The finishing lineup has changed. And changed again. Injuries have cropped up.

And most importantly, there have been more losses than wins.

Of course, none of this means it's time panic.

The Owls have been in this position before – last year, in fact, when they lost two of their first three A-10 games and were muddling a bit at 11-5 in mid-January. Then came an 11-game win streak.

But the difference this year, as evidenced once again Saturday night, is that the A-10 is deeper than ever. How deep? It looks almost certain that the fifth and sixth place teams will be legitimate NCAA Tournament contenders. The 10th and 11th place teams will probably be in position to earn postseason bids.

How tough is the A-10 this season? If the postseason tournament started today, St. Bonaventure – who last week beat Temple and St. Joseph's on the road – would not be a participant.

Over the next four Saturdays, the Owls will visit St. Joe's, Dayton, UMass, and Charlotte. Somewhere along the way, they need to grab some road scalps. And they need to win their home games, starting with Wednesday's tilt against Richmond.

The good news about the A-10 being so good is that nearly every game presents the opportunity to score a quality win.

When was the last time a homecourt win over La Salle was considered an NCAA Tournament resume-builder? That would be the Lionel Simmons era.

Next month, the Owls will get the chance to do something that Butler and VCU couldn't do this week – beat the Explorers.

But can Temple do it?

Thirty years of A-10 history says yes, absolutely yes.

But with today's college basketball world turned upside down by conference membership changes, this could be the year the A-10 standings flip, too.

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