The Temple Owls are an enigma in the same way that about 40% of the current AAC men’s basketball teams are enigmas. The highs have been quite high, the lows have been stunningly low, and the 13 games of Temple’s season so far look like a team still trying to figure some things out under a first-year head coach.
As new head coaches go, Aaron McKie was definitely hired (or promoted in this case) as someone who understood the existing roster and program values. McKie was an assistant under his predecessor Fran Dunphy since 2014, in addition to being a Temple hoops alum from the glory days of coach John Chaney and a longtime Philadelphia 76ers player.
Prior to last season, it was formalized that McKie would be taking the job of the retiring Dunphy. These ‘coach in waiting’ arrangements can be awkward, but I don’t think it had an adverse effect on an Owls team that ended up making the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Saying anything concrete about a team identity when a coach has been in charge for 13 games is folly, so take any of my assessments with that caveat. But under McKie the Owls look like a much better defensive team than they did the last 2 or 3 years of Dunphy.
As of Monday morning, the Owls are 22nd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency and are top 30 nationally in both opponent effective FG % and opponent 3-point FG %. Other than being simply average at forcing opponent turnovers you can scarcely find a defensive metric where they’re not inside the top 100 nationally.
Individually, the combo of senior Quinton Rose and junior Nate Pierre-Louis are as responsible as any players for the Owls mostly stingy defense. Both players are in the top 200 nationally in steal % and Pierre-Louis has 6 multi-steal games so far this season.
The flip side of the coin is those 2 players were both expected to carry the Owls offense in 2019-20 and both have been mired in varying degrees of a shooting slump. Rose has never been a great 3-point shooter, but he’s inexplicably gone from shooting 34.5% 2 seasons ago to 21.6% (11-51) in the current season. Pierre-Louis has never been a volume shooter like Rose from deep, but notably dropped from 31% last year to 20% (7-35) on 3-pointers this year.
Where Rose and Pierre-Louis excel is driving to the basket and drawing fouls and Rose has dramatically improved as a free throw shooter in his final collegiate season. The Coogs play a foul-happy defense at times, so my biggest concern is a slog of a game where Rose and Pierre-Louis go to the foul line 20+ times.
One pleasant surprise of the current Owls season has to be the shooting of senior Alani Moore. The trajectory of Moore’s career in North Philly has been interesting, an awesome freshman year where he shot over 41% on 3-pointers followed by disappointing sophomore and junior years. In the current season he is shooting 39.1% on 3-pointers and leads the team in 3-point FG attempts.
Freshman Josh Pierre-Louis and junior Monty Scott have both shown flashes off the bench. The younger Pierre-Louis is 4 for 8 on 3 pointers in the Owls’ first 2 AAC games.
The offensive contributions have been less consistent from the front court, as Indiana transfer and sophomore Jake Forrester leads all big men with 7.9 points/game. The primary starting front court this season has been juniors JP Moorman and Justyn Hamilton.
Under McKie and the new coaching staff the Owls have improved noticeably as a rebounding team and are currently 37th nationally in opponent offensive rebound % (the Cougars are 2nd nationally in off. rebound %). This game also features, in my opinion, the 2 best rebounding guards in college basketball: Nate Hinton (9.7 rebounds/game) and Nate Pierre-Louis (8.8 rebounds/game).
Last season the Coogs found Temple to be a troublesome matchup because last year’s Cougar team was undersized, and Temple’s length gave them problems on both ends of the floor. On average this is a much taller Cougar team, which isn’t to say Temple can’t stymie them but the dynamics of the matchup have changed.
This has been a pretty volatile Owls team through 13 games. They were good enough to push a top 10 Maryland team much harder than the 76-69 final would indicate, but last Friday got ran out of the gym in a 70-44 loss at Tulsa.
However uneven the Owls have been, this is an opponent with a good defense and no scenario where the Coogs leave the Liacouras Center and Philadelphia with a win, no matter the margin, is a bad one.