PHILADELPHIA – Minutes after learning his team did not receive an invitation to the NCAA tournament, Senior Co-Captain of the men’s basketball team Will Cummings tweeted “Control the controllable…#wintheNIT”
Some analysts are calling it the biggest snub of March Madness this year, but regardless of opinion, Temple is not dancing. But their season is not over.
The Owls were chosen as a #1 seed in the NIT, and they will host Bucknell on Wednesday night at 7 PM at the Liacouras Center. The up side – more home games for Temple fans and a hopeful final four trip to Madison Square Garden. The down side – well, put it this way, it’s like being told you can sit at the head of the kids table.
For a senior like Cummings who thought his team earned a spot, being left out is an insult. “Our name doesn’t hold weight in the selection committees eyes” he said.
The team watched from the private film room as media waited on the other side of a barrier. Temple watched as other bubble teams like Texas and Indiana began to fill the bracket. But it was the surprise of UCLA earning an 11 seed against SMU, the recent winner of the American title who trumped Temple on their road to victory, that hinted it may be over for the Owls.
They knew, going in, that losing to SMU three times was a blemish on their resume, however, the team and fans alike had hoped that a 25-point blowout win over Kansas (who earned a 2 seed) would be bold enough to catch the committee’s eye.
“For us, if we had one more win, we would be dancing,” said head coach Fran Dunphy.
Dunphy didn’t watch the selection show with the team. He said he couldn’t watch. Instead, he paced around the practice gym, waiting for a phone call that never came.
But Selection Sunday is about more than just a single team’s resume. A member of the committee said Temple’s chances were lost when Wyoming beat South Dakota State University for the Mountain West title, locking them in to the Dance.
It’s a wall in what would have been a poetic season for Temple, who notched a 9-22 record just last year, in what was the worst season in Owl history. They reversed that score in the regular season this year, finishing 22-9 and then adding a 23rd win the AAC tournament, which happened to also be Fran Dunphy’s 500th career win.
Now Temple, at 23-10, will look to the leadership of their coach and seniors to overcome heartbreak and compete in the NIT.
Maybe that’s the beauty of an overlooked tournament. It’s about more than just who can put up more points. It’s which team has the will to set aside disappoint and just keep playing basketball.
Temple has a Will, at least.
But like his team, he must first shake off the snub.
“First I have to get myself back up, before I can get the team up,” he said.
He has until Wednesday night to try.