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Consecutive games in which Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr. has hit leadoff home run

College Notebook: Owls taking positive steps

Posted by Eric Fisher On February 11

Give Temple credit. The Owls have won five straight games, establishing themselves as the second-best team in the region.

In my previous college basketball notebook (Jan. 28), I concluded that there wasn’t a clear No. 2 team in the region behind Villanova. I took some heat from Temple supporters for saying that La Salle, which defeated Temple, had the inside track to be No. 2.

I stand by my analysis two weeks ago, but it’s clear that the Owls (15-10 overall, 7-6 American Athletic Conference) have taken the necessary steps to be considered the second-best team in the region.

As I wrote in my conclusion for Temple on Jan. 28, the Owls were inconsistent during their first 20 games. They’ve corrected that issue by winning their last five games.

With freshman Nate Pierre-Louis (7.8 points per game) adding offense off the bench, the Owls are less apt to suffer through scoring droughts. The Owls don’t truly have a “go to” scorer for late in games, but Quinton Rose (14.9), Shizz Alston Jr. (13.4), Obi Enechoionyia (11.1), Josh Brown (8.8) and Pierre-Louis provide the type of depth that prevents the opposition from focusing on one player.

A critic would point out that four of the Owls’ five consecutive wins came against the bottom four teams (through Saturday’s games) in the AAC. A counter to that argument is that the five-game winning streak includes and 81-79 victory second-place Wichita State, which was ranked 16th in the nation when that game was played. Furthermore, the other four wins during the streak were all by at least seven points. The Owls lost by 10 points when they played Tulane at home on Dec. 28; they beat Tulane by seven points on Feb. 4.

Two weeks ago, Temple was struggling and head coach Fran Dunphy’s seat was getting hotter. Today, the Owls have a clear path to being No. 2 in the region and, more importantly, earning an NCAA Tournament berth.

Temple could take a big step toward an NCAA berth by defeating Wichita State for a second time on Thursday (7 p.m.), this time on the road. That’s followed by a home game Sunday (4 p.m.) against third-place Houston. If the Owls win both of those games, they would reach 20 wins by winning their final three games of the regular season. Even if they split the games with Houston and Wichita State, the Owls could make a strong bid for an NCAA Tournament berth by winning two games in the AAC Tournament.

The Owls no longer appear lost in the woods, as they did two weeks ago. They have a clear path to 20 victories and, possibly, an NCAA Tournament berth.

And, yes, Temple fans, the Owls clearly are the No. 2 team in the region.

*****

VILLANOVA ANSWERS BUTLER: After losing to St. John’s on Wednesday, top-ranked Villanova avoids two-game losing streak by defeat Butler, 86-75, at Wells Fargo Center. Butler, which had beaten the Wildcats in three straight meetings, held an eight-point lead with a little less than two minutes remaining until halftime. But the Wildcats clamped down defensively and took control of the game in the second half.

Villanova is playing without two starters, guard Phil Booth (broken bone in hand) and Eric Paschall (concussion). Donte DiVincenzo helped fill the void against Butler with a career-high 30 points.

*****

WHO’S NO. 1? It will be interesting to see if Villanova remains No. 1 in the national rankings (and you may already know the answer to this question by the time you read this article). Second-ranked Virginia appeared to be on a roll, but the Cavaliers were upset by Virginia Tech in overtime, 61-60, on Saturday. Also on Saturday, 4th-ranked Michigan State defeated 3rd-ranked Purdue, 68-65. Will the Spartan (24-3) jump over the Wildcats, Cavaliers and Boilermakers to attain the No. 1 ranking? Will Villanova remaining at the top, albeit with a smaller gap to the No. 2 team? We’ll find out soon.

*****

QUAKERS HIT ROADBLOCK: After not playing a road game since Dec. 9, Penn played three Ivy League road games this past week, defeating Princeton (82-65) and Dartmouth (64-61) before losing to Harvard, 76-67, on Saturday. The loss dropped the Quakers (17-7 overall, 7-1 Ivy League) into a first-place tie with Harvard.

The Quakers continue on the road against Columbia and Cornell next Friday and Saturday, respectively, before returning home the following weekend to face Dartmouth and, in a game that could decide the Ivy League title, Harvard.

*****

HAWKS SNAP STREAK: Saturday’s 83-75 victory over Massachusetts snapped a five-game losing streak for Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks (10-14) were at .500 before the losing streak began.

*****

TRAVEL PROBLEMS: In contrast to Temple (lead item in this article), La Salle is 1-3 since I proclaimed that it had the inside track to be the second-best team in the region. Not surprisingly, La Salle’s only victory was an 81-78 victory over Saint Joseph’s at Tom Gola Arena. “Not surprisingly” because the Explorers have had an extremely difficult to on the road this season.

The Explorers (10-15) are just 1-9 on the road this season. The lone road win came on Nov. 13, a 75-71 double-overtime triumph over Penn at the Palestra. La Salle is also 1-4 in neutral site games.

The bottom line is that La Salle is 2-13 away from home. The good news is that four of the Explorers’ six remaining regular-season games are at Tom Gola Arena.

*****

STREAKY DRAGONS: Drexel’s four-game winning streak was halted by Thursday’s 94-92 overtime loss to Towson. That winning streak was preceded by a five-game losing streak. The Dragons have lost two in a row – they were blown out by Charleston, 89-67, on Saturday – leaving them just four regular-season games left to reverse this streak and start to win before the conference tournament begins.

*****

FULL SPEED AHEAD: Former Saint Joseph’s star DeAndre Bembry, now with Atlanta Hawks, was arrested early Friday morning in Atlanta for driving 128 mph in a 55 mph zone. Bembry was charged with speeding and reckless driving during what is suspected to be a street race.

*****

LOOKAHEAD: All games are important at this point in the season, but the two biggest games this week are Temple visiting 22nd-ranked Wichita State on Thursday (7 p.m.), and top-ranked Villanova visiting 5th-ranked Xavier on Saturday (4:30 p.m.). (Rankings are prior to new polls being released for this week.)

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