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Men’s Basketball Preview 2017-18

Temple is coming off a 16-16 record and first-round American Athletic Conference tournament exit in the 2016-17 season.

brown RETURNS, provides STABILITY Achilles tendon soreness limited the fifth-year senior guard to five games last season.

BY TOM IGNUDO

Once he felt the pop, Josh Brown knew something bad happened.

Brown was playing in a pickup game at Pearson Hall with some of his teammates and players from Penn and Lafayette College in May 2016. The redshirt-senior guard made a hesitation move and suffered an Achilles tendon injury that prevented him from playing most of last season.

Eighteen months after his injury, Brown is nearly fully healthy, coach Fran Dunphy said, and ready for his final season.

“Early on in my progression at getting back, I felt things and I would be cautious about moving certain directions or any movements, but now I’m over that,” Brown said. “I’m free out there, ready to play. I just try to focus on the game.”

Brown played in five games last season, including two starts against DePaul University and Villanova in December. He only played 25 minutes or more twice and averaged 7.2 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game.

“We were in a lot of late-game situations and a number of them we fell down on,” Dunphy said. “I’d rather have him out there because he gives you that sense of calm, sense of comfort that you need as a coach.”

Temple pulled off an overtime victory against La Salle in its season opener and earned back-to-back victories against ranked opponents Florida State University and West Virginia University in games decided by five points or fewer. Brown didn’t play in any of those games.

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Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown will return to the court after leading Temple in minutes in 2015-16 but being limited to five games in 2016-17. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

But the Owls couldn’t sustain their November momentum, Dunphy said. Six of Temple’s 16 losses came in games decided by five points or fewer.

Tulsa junior guard Sterling Taplin made a layup with less than five seconds left to give the Golden Hurricane a two-point win in January at the Liacouras Center. Connecticut junior guard Jalen Adams made a game-winning layup on Feb. 19, and Central Florida edged Temple by two points on Feb. 22.

“I don’t think people realize how good [Brown] is, and he’s a big addition for them, especially when a guy’s older like that and he knows it’s his last year,” Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin. “He’s a tough kid, a competitive guy, he’s won games for them at the end of the game with the ball in his hand. Big games. Road games.”

As Brown watched Southern Methodist pull away from Temple midway through the second half on Feb. 9, he wished he could’ve helped his team make a comeback. He has hit game-winning shots before, like on Jan. 5, 2016 against a ranked UConn team.

This year, he’ll get to share the backcourt with junior guard Shizz Alston Jr., who led the Owls 13.9 points per game last season.

“It’s going to help them in the start of games, it’s going to help them in the middle of the game and everybody gets caught on the late games, but it’s getting your teams to those moments that he’s going to really help,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said.

Brown said it was hard for him to see promotions of games on social media or on Main Campus knowing he couldn’t play last season. He would try to stay busy by watching college basketball in his dorm.

Central Florida redshirt-junior guard B.J. Taylor can relate to Brown’s experience. Taylor missed his sophomore season because of a broken ankle.

In order to keep his mind off not playing, Taylor made a schedule for himself every day that allowed him to stay involved with the team by going to meetings and watching film. He said he became a player-coach to give his team advice.

“Those types of injuries or anything that’s season-long like that, tests your mental toughness,” Taylor said. “Anyone who’s competitive wants to be out there with their teammates trying to help your guys win. So I’m sure he learned a lot from that experience, and I’m sure he’s anxious to get back out there.”

Like Taylor, Brown tried to encourage his teammates while out, especially some of the younger guards like sophomores Alani Moore II and Quinton Rose.

This year, Brown is trying to help the team’s four freshmen, including guard Nate Pierre-Louis. The two have known each other since Pierre-Louis was in the sixth grade.

“He would just always talk,” senior forward Obi Enechionyia said. “Practice, in the games, just always had something to say. Always trying to get guys’ advice, and that hasn’t changed. This year with the freshmen that we have, the guards, he’s trying to help them out, give them some pointers that can help them improve as well. That’s just his personality.”


PHOTO: EVAN EASTERLING | ANIMATION: JULIE CHRISTIE

‘New wave’ on North Broad Obi Enechionyia’s shooting ability and the Owls’ depth will enable them to go small.

BY EVAN EASTERLING

Frank Haith doesn’t want to coach the old-school way anymore.

The Tulsa coach doesn’t want to use a lineup with two big men as part of the traditional five positions. Haith subscribes to what he calls the “new wave” of basketball, where teams use smaller lineups to space the floor.

During the 2011-12 season when Haith led the University of Missouri to 30 victories and won the Associated Press National Coach of the Year award, he used 6-foot-6-inch guard Kim English to hold University of Kansas 7-foot center Jeff Withey, a 2013 NBA second round draft pick, scoreless in a game in February 2012.

Haith is hardly original. Across the NBA, teams are going smaller to create more opportunities for shooters and players cutting to the rim and the trend has trickled down the college level.

With Temple’s increased versatility, the Owls have the ability to fit into the “new wave” and need to do so to maximize their potential.

Before Temple’s first official practice on Oct. 5, redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown said he’d never seen freshman wings with the athleticism that J.P. Moorman II and De’Vondre Perry have. The two “can guard a lot of positions that we really couldn’t guard that much in recent years,” Brown added.

“The game is changing to the point where you’re playing one big and four guards almost so often during the course of the game and particularly during the last six, seven, eight minutes of the game. … I think we’re in pretty good shape with where we are right now because our depth is better,” coach Fran Dunphy said.

The key to having successful small lineups are “3-and-D” players, or those who can shoot from 3-point range and defend well.

In the American Athletic Conference, Southern Methodist excelled at both last year. The Mustangs, who won The American and made the NCAA tournament, ranked first in the conference in 3-point shooting and allowed the fewest points per game.

Temple had one half of the 3-and-D combination last season, but it needs both to make small lineups work.

Temple shot 35.6 percent from 3-point range last year to rank third in The American. Of Temple’s 1,916 field-goal attempts last season, 42.1 percent came from beyond the 3-point arc. Temple has never taken a higher percentage of 3-point shots in Dunphy’s 11-year tenure and hadn’t taken more than 39 percent of its shots from behind the arc since his second season.

The Owls return sophomore guard Alani Moore II, who led the team with a 41.4 percent clip beyond the arc. They also return senior forward Obi Enechionyia, who made a team-high 75 3-pointers. Moorman and Perry are shooting better than Dunphy thought they would be this early in their careers, he said.

Sports Illustrated projects the Owls will have the 31st-best offense out of 351 teams in Division I.

Temple will have to improve in rebounding and defense to make the new wave work. Last season, the Owls allowed the third-highest field-goal percentage in The American and had a negative 3.6 rebounding margin. Only Tulane was worse.

With the return of redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown to the lineup, Temple can play junior guard Shizz Alston Jr. and its other backcourt players for fewer minutes. The added rest should make the team play better defensively.

“We have a lot of big teams in our conference,” Moore said. “I think that a four-guard lineup could do really well as long as we rebound.”

Having a power forward, or four, who can play well is critical to the new wave, Haith said. When a taller player can shoot and dribble, the defense has to mark him with the quickness to deny him the ball and the strength to box out for rebounds, which are hard to find in one player, Memphis coach Tubby Smith said.

Enechionyia is that player for Temple. His 3-point shooting ability forces defenses to guard him on the perimeter, which creates opportunities for other people, Haith said.

After averaging 21 points per game and helping the Owls earn back-to-back top-25 upsets in November, Enechionyia averaged 9.3 points per game in December and finished the season averaging 13.1. He “made things easy by just standing on the perimeter and settling for jump shots” instead of playing a more complete game, Enechionyia said.

Enechionyia worked during the summer to add more options to his offensive repertoire, and he trained in the practice facility in Pearson Hall with graduate manager Grant Kitani to improve his post hooks and fadeaways. Enechionyia feels confident playing center, he said.

I think that a four-guard lineup could do really well as long as we rebound. ALANI MOORE II
SOPHOMORE GUARD

Sophomore guard Quinton Rose said Temple’s goal is to win The American, which is a tougher league with the addition of Wichita State. The Shockers are No. 7 in the Associated Press preseason poll, and Cincinnati is No. 12. Sports Illustrated projects Central Florida to be a top-30 team. Central Florida, Cincinnati and Wichita State are all projected to have top-10 defenses.

The Owls will play each of those teams twice as they try to better their 16-16 record in the 2016-17 season. Playing small can help the Owls beat those teams, like when they beat ranked West Virginia University’s press defense in November by making 10-of-19 3-point attempts.

Temple will “be forced” to go small no matter what happens, Dunphy said. How the team does in those situations can be the difference between reaching the NCAA tournament and a disappointing season.


PHOTO: EVAN EASTERLING | ANIMATION: JULIE CHRISTIE

enechionyia working on all-around game The senior forward averaged 13.1 points per game last season and has tried to improve his post scoring.

BY TOM IGNUDO

As he watched Obi Enechionyia play as a freshman, Tim Jankovich felt anxious.

The Southern Methodist coach noticed Enechionyia’s skill and realized he’d have to plan to defend him for the next four years.

Enechionyia played in 34 of Temple’s 37 games during the 2014-15 season, including three against Southern Methodist. He had eight points against the Mustangs on Feb. 19, 2015, and he scored eight points and had five rebounds in the American Athletic Conference semifinal.

Jankovich calls the senior forward a “25-year guy,” a player who is so tough to prepare to defend every season that it makes coaches feel like he has been in college for more than four years.

“I think he’s been there too long, and we’re going to check eligibility,” Jankovich said jokingly.

Jankovich will have to plan to defend Enechionyia again on Jan. 10.

The 6-foot-10-inch forward averaged 21 points, 8.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks through the first seven games last season.

Enechionyia only scored in double digits 12 times in the next 21 games until he posted 14 points or more in four consecutive games to finish the season. Enechionyia finished as Temple’s second-leading scorer with 13.1 points per game and shot 38.5 percent from 3-point range.

Redshirt-senior guard Josh Brown said the Owls had success early in the season using Enechionyia in pick-and-roll offense. But as the season progressed, teams started to switch defenders on Enechionyia in those scenarios, coach Fran Dunphy said.

“I didn’t make it difficult enough for them,” Enechionyia said. “I made things easy by just standing on the perimeter and settling for jump shots. So this offseason has been big for that. I’ve been working on being able to do more…having more options on the court, being more of a weapon offensively.”

Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said the Huskies tried to crowd Enechionyia and make him uncomfortable whenever he got the ball outside. Enechionyia shot 3-for-19 from the field in two games against the Huskies last season.

Teams started defending Bearcats sophomore guard Jarron Cumberland the way they covered Enechionyia because of his success from 3-point range, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. Cumberland eventually became a non-factor from long range, he added.

After Cumberland made six 3-pointers against South Florida on Jan. 29, he only made more than one 3-pointer twice in Cincinnati’s 14 remaining games.

“Any guy that makes shots is going to get defended a lot harder at the 3-point line, especially because coaches know the three can beat you,” Cronin said. “I think everyone stopped letting [Enechionyia] pop and be open and started switching everything he did knowing he was going to pop for the shot.”

Because of Enechionyia’s hot start last season, some believed he could’ve been selected in the first round of the 2017 NBA Draft. Enechionyia declared for the NBA Draft in March, but he didn’t sign an agent, which allowed him to withdraw his name from the draft and return for his senior season.

Enechionyia didn’t receive an invitation to the NBA Combine, but he still received feedback from NBA scouts on what skills to polish, like his rebounding, ability to play off the dribble and offensive versatility.

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Senior forward Obi Enechionyia had a career-high rebounding average last season and averaged 13.1 points per game. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

In the beginning of the summer, Enechionyia went back to his Virginia home and worked out at Marymount University with his high school coach and former teammates.

Enechionyia said once he returned to Temple in June, graduate manager Grant Kitani helped him work on his touch in the post around the basket.

Enechionyia was Temple’s first player warming up before practice on Wednesday at Pearson Hall. Instead of settling for 3-pointers, Enechionyia took two dribbles in from the wing and hit a shot off the dribble inside the arc.

Dunphy thinks Enechionyia’s offseason training has paid off.

If Enechionyia can shot fake to elude fast-closing defenders, he can create five-on-four situations and pass to someone in scoring position, Dunphy said.

“I think he’s improved, dramatically,” Dunphy said. “There’s two things that I would say to you, the post up is one thing, but the playmaking is more important.”

Evan Easterling and Tom Ignudo can be reached at sports@temple-news.com or on Twitter @TTN_Sports.

Photos by HoJun Yu, Evan Easterling and Sydney Schaefer.

Video Ian Schobel.

Interactives by Julie Christie

Produced and designed by Julie Christie, Evan Easterling and Tom Ignudo.

First published Nov. 7, 2017.