Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Best of Temple Hoops

Temple joins La Salle and Villanova as the only Big Five schools to win what’s considered to be a national championship, though the Owls won their title after taking the 1938 NIT, a year before the NCAA Tournament began.

Harry Litwack and John Chaney both made the Hall of Fame as coaches and the Owls’ legendary players include perhaps the best backcourt in college history: Guy Rodgers and Hal Lear. Oddly, many of Temple’s stars didn’t transition well to the NBA; Lear, Bill Mlkvy, Bill “Pickles” Kennedy, Lynn Greer, Nate Blackwell, and Pepe Sanchez played in a combined 130 NBA games—less than two full seasons.

Another oddity: the Owls have more Elite Eight appearances in the NCAA tourney when they’re a double-digit seed than when they were a No. 1 or 2 seed. They’re 4-3 as a No. 1 or 2 with an ’88 Elite Eight showing, and 6-5 with Elite Eight trips in ’91 and ’01 when seeded 10th or lower.

The first team:
1. Bill Mlkvy (1949-52)
Amazingly, Mlkvy, the Owl Without a Vowel, led the nation in scoring (29.2 ppg.) and was second in rebounding (18.9 rpg.) and assists (7.0) in 1950-51 when he was a consensus All-American. Mlkvy scored 73 in one game and finished with 1,539 points and a current school-record 21.9 career scoring average.

2. Guy Rodgers (1955-58)
A star on Temple’s two Final Four teams (’56, ’58), Rodgers was a consensus All-American in ’58 and went on to become the most successful ex-Temple NBA star. He led the NBA in assists twice and finished second six times on the way to four NBA All-Star appearances.

3. Hal Lear (1953-56)
Lear finished a brilliant career as the MVP of the 1956 NCAA Tournament, taking Temple to a third-place finish. He finished with 1,472 career points and a 19.0 career scoring average, and teamed with Rodgers to become the best backcourt in Big Five history.

4. Mark Macon (1987-91)
The McDonald’s All-American didn’t disappoint, becoming the only four-time first-team all-Atlantic 10 pick in conference history. He led the Owls to a No. 1 ranking in the ’87-88 season and Elite Eight finishes in 1988 and ’91. Macon ended his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,609, still No. 1) and steals leader (281, now third).

5. Eddie Jones (1991-94)
Jones was the 1993-94 A-10 Player of the Year, which gives him the slightest edge over teammate Aaron McKie. He finished with 1,470 points in three seasons before becoming the 10th overall pick in the ’94 NBA draft. He and Rodgers are Temple’s only NBA All-Stars; Jones was a three-time selection.

The second team:
Aaron McKie (1991-94)
Mike Bloom (1936-38)
Dionte Christmas (2004-08)
Bill “Pickles” Kennedy (1957-60)
John Baum (1966-69)

The best team: 1955-56
Led by Guy Rodgers and Final Four MVP Hal Lear, the ’55-56 Owls finished 27-4 under Harry Litwack. The pair combined for 60 of the team’s 76 points in the 83-76 NCAA tourney semifinal loss to Iowa (Lear, 32; Rodgers, 28).

Other top teams:
1987-88: John Chaney’s nationally ranked No. 1 team, which finished 32-2 and in the NCAA’s Elite Eight, featured perhaps the Owls’ best all-around collection of talent, with Macon, Tim Perry, Howard Evans, Mike Vreeswyk, and Ramon Rivas.

1937-38: The Owls won the initial NIT—and de facto national championship since the NCAA Tournament started the next year—behind first-team All-American Mike Bloom and NIT MVP Don Shields.

1957-58: Litwack’s other Final Four team featured Rodgers, Kennedy and Jay Norman, and finished 27-3.

1986-87: Nate Blackwell, Perry, Evans, and Rivas finished 32-4, with a No. 2 seeding in the NCAA tourney.

1999-00: The 27-6 Owls finished the season ranked 5th nationally behind Quincy Wadley and Pepe Sanchez and were a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tourney.

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