wenty-six games down, three all-important games remain. Following a business-like win over Rhode Island, the University of Massachusetts Minutemen will travel to Philadelphia for a sold-out game against Temple. Coach Bruiser Flint and his troops have been watching the nightly Atlantic 10 games as the race for second place in the East Division of the A-10 comes down to the wire. Following Temple, the Minutemen return home on Feb. 29 to face George Washington and then travel to St. Bonaventure for perhaps the biggest game of the season on March 4.
At this time of year, when conference races are tight, everyone does it.
I am no different. And this week, when St. Bonaventure plays both Temple and St. Joseph's in Philadelphia, I'll be paying close attention to the results.
Here's the thing: We want Temple to win Thursday night against the Bonnies. We hope they have exhausted everything they have in revenging an earlier season loss against the Bonnies. Then when we arrive in town for Saturday's game, we can pull the upset!
Our team is starting to pull things together at just the right time. Although our win over Rhode Island wasn't aesthetically pleasing, I'll take a 20-point victory any day. The win gave us a three-game winning streak and pushed our record to four games over .500 (15-11, 9-4). For the first time this season, our team has become a candidate for postseason play, whether it is the NIT or NCAA.
We have three very difficult games remaining -- against Temple on the road, George Washington (Feb. 29) at home and perhaps a huge contest at St. Bonaventure (March 4). We are tied with the Bonnies for second place in the Eastern Division. We are both playing for a bye in the opening round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament in Philadelphia that begins on March 8.
First things first. We have a big game against Temple to concentrate on. In my opinion, Temple is the hottest team in the nation right now. The Owls recently defeated No. 1 Cincinnati on the road and have all the pieces working together. You know that Temple is always going to play great defense. Their offense has always been the area that lacks consistency. Not this year. Everyone is making shots. And when guys like Lynn Greer, Quincy Wadley, Mark Karcher and Pepe Sanchez start shooting they way they have -- and from distance! -- you say your prayers and hope they miss.
Lately, they haven't. Temple is a tough, physical, city team. When they smell blood, they go for the jugular. They get to every loose ball. They get to every loose rebound. They knock you around. They play together. They make teams play at their tempo. They'll play grind-it-out basketball.
While it is true that Temple has stepped it up a notch since the return of Pepe Sanchez, who missed the first eight games of the season with an ankle injury, the MVP of the team, in my opinion, is Karcher. Pepe makes the Owls good. Karcher makes that great. The Owls have won 11 straight games and 14 of their last 15. Talk about getting hot at just the right time.
Here's what you need to know about Temple's recent shooting exploits: For the season, Karcher is shooting 39 percent, Greer 40 percent and Wadley 35 percent. But in Temple's 77-69 upset over Cincinnati, the Owls shot 52 percent from the floor. No team had shot better than 50 percent against the Bearcats in the last 63 games! Cincinnati did everything right to win the game -- the Bearcats had 24 points in the paint compared to Temple's 12 and had twice as many points off turnovers and second-chance points than Temple. But under severe defensive pressure -- and from distance! -- Temple shot the lights out.
We're going to have to match Temple's intensity. Look, our game Saturday is just the second sellout of the season (the other was the season opener against Miami of Ohio). It is going to be a madhouse in Philly. If we don't play with the same passion as John Chaney's team, then the result will be the same as it was on Feb. 1 when Temple crushed us 75-48 in Amherst. I know I don't have to remind my guys that we were out-rebounded 43-18 in that game.
Up until Tuesday night, George Washington was playing as well as anyone in our league. But, as is the norm this season with teams from the Western Division, they play great at home, but not-as-great on the road. The Colonials lost to Xavier, 88-76, in Cincinnati, just their second loss in the last nine games.
We are hoping that on Feb. 29 against us, GW's road problems continue. The Colonials have lost every league road game this season. This will be our first and only meeting against GW this season. We used to play the Colonials twice a year and those battles were tremendous. After a 20-9 season last year, one that included winning the West Division on a Shawnta Rogers three-pointer at the buzzer against Xavier, GW is hovering around .500 this season, but as I said earlier, the team is peaking at the right time.
GW has great guards, and both are freshmen. By now, everyone has heard of super freshman Sirvaliant Brown (24.7 ppg), who is not only leading the A-10 in scoring, but threatening to become the first freshman in NCAA history to lead the nation in scoring. I have been impressed by Chris Monroe, another freshman in the backcourt, who is second in scoring (15.9 ppg) and first in rebounding (6.4 rpg). Bernard Barrow, a 5-foot-8 guard who is a junior college transfer, leads GW in assists. Mike King, a three-year starter in the backcourt, is having a solid season (12.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg).
I am figuring that GW will try to pound us around down low with 6-foot-8 forward Pat Ngongba who may have the best physique in the league. His bookend is 6-foot-8 Antxon Iturbe, another "brute." Francisco de Miranda lends a post presence to GW's attack.
I expect the GW game to be a war.
In my final regular season column before the A-10 Tournament, I'll provide a closer look at our game against St. Bonaventure.