PHILADELPHIA – For all the traditions associated with Temple, the loaded non-conference schedule has been as much a part of the Owls' DNA as their rugged North Philly roots.
Want No. 1 seeds? How about games against Kansas, Duke and Syracuse?
Tough outs from the double-digit underdogs? Detroit is there waiting for one more chance to knock off the Owls.
Those kinds of schedules, which started under Hall of Fame coach John Chaney and continue under to seventh-year coach Fran Dunphy, are always fun for fans, who don't have to suffer through a slate of softies. It's unpleasant for those heavyweights, though. Under Dunphy, the Owls beat No. 8 Tennessee in 2008, No. 3 Villanova in 2009, No. 9 Georgetown in 2010 and No. 5 Duke last season.
Those games are all in danger of leaving Temple's schedule after the Owls bolt the Atlantic 10 for the Big East following this season. Temple's 31st season in the mid-major conference will be its last, swapping games with St. Bonaventure, Fordham and Rhode Island for regular dates with Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown. The Owls will lose all but one of those Mid-American Conference games they were obligated to play because of the football program's former affiliation with the league — but it likely spells the end of boosting their RPI with December games more fitting for late March.
"Our philosophy will change because of the kind of conference we're going into, which is arguably, still, with all the defections, the finest basketball conference in the country," Temple Athletic Director Bill Bradshaw said. "Our major games will be played January, February and the beginning of March more than they were in the Atlantic 10."
Bradshaw said he'd like to schedule one home-and-home series with an elite program and fill in the rest of the schedule with a preseason tournament and some Big 5 games.
Yes, the Owls (24-8, 13-3 Atlantic 10) are headed toward a new era in hoops next season, and they're bringing along a sparkling $58 million practice facility that blows away anything else like it among the other five city schools.
They'd like to put one final A-10 trophy in the case before they leave the conference. No program has dominated the A-10 like the Owls since they joined in 1982. They made the NCAA tournament 12 times under Chaney and have five straight appearances with Dunphy. The Owls won a record nine Atlantic 10 tournament championships and won the outright regular-season title a year ago for the first time since 1989-90.
Even with Butler and VCU joining the conference this season, don't expect the rest of the teams to feel bad the Owls are flying the coop.
"We're leaving a conference that we have great relationships with, great rivalries over the years," Dunphy said. "It's one of those things that happens in college sports and in life. Change happens and we have to react to that."
Big changes are in store for the Owls with the losses of Micheal Eric, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, three pillars in Temple's return to national prominence over the last five years. The Owls, though, can offset the loss of all that scoring with perhaps Dunphy's deepest roster. The Owls will have three veterans in the lineup who didn't play a second last season: swingman Scootie Randall (redshirt/knee), guard Dalton Pepper (transfer, West Virginia) and forward Jake O'Brien (transfer, Boston University). Throw in Khalif Wyatt (17.1 points), forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, forward Anthony Lee and guard Will Cummings, and the Owls, picked to finish fourth in the A-10, could easily be in the hunt for one last championship.
"We just want to make it special," Wyatt said. "We just want to make our mark on the league."
Wyatt is the most intriguing Owl. His ability to score is a given and his consecutive 3-pointers in Temple's 78-73 win over the Blue Devils rocked the Wells Fargo Center. But he was benched three times because of violations of team rules, including the A-10 tourney loss to Massachusetts, and made national headlines in the summer when he was arrested on prostitution and resisting arrest charges in Atlantic City, N.J.
"I think he's paid a very steep price," Dunphy said, of Wyatt's embarrassment.
If Wyatt can get his act together off the court, that could mean bigger production on the court.
Dunphy will find a way to mesh the new faces with the familiar ones and put the Owls in position to clip the nets at the first A-10 tourney at the Barclays Center in New York. It's one reason why Dunphy was voted the most underrated coach in college basketball in a CBSSports.com poll of his peers.
His failures in the NCAAs have largely overshadowed his 444 career wins with Penn and Temple.
"He may be underrated because he hasn't had that much success in the tournament," Wyatt said. "But coach Dunphy is one of the best coaches in the country."
Temple's traditional first-weekend NCAA exit (1-5) under Dunphy continued with a loss to South Florida following a one-and-done in the A-10 tourney.
"Is it helping us motivationally? Yeah, it is, because we finished poorly and we don't ever want to do it again," Dunphy said.
One deep run in March could be the perfect way to say goodbye to the A-10.