A casual observer would look at the Temple Owls and think they are a contender. A contender too possibly go far in the upcoming NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 when, as an 11 seed, they advanced to the elite 8. But that is to the casual observer. If you ask a diehard Owls fan this team is in trouble in more ways than oneThe Owls are currently ranked #24 in both the ESPN/Coaches poll and the AP poll, moving down one spot from last week. The Owls just beat rival St. Joes 66-52 to push their home winning streak to 20 games which dates back to the 2009-2010 season. To the naked eye it would appear the Owls are rolling, but they are in for a rude awaking on Wednesday as they go into Cameron Indoor Arena to take on the #1 ranked team in the country, Duke.

Owls fans can be hopeful come Wednesday. Hopeful that the underdog will be able to go into a hostile environment and pull out a victory, but it likely won’t happen. One of the main reasons is because the Owls are the walking wounded. Starting center Michael Eric is out for the season with a fractured knee cap. Eric, the 6’11 junior, was averaging 7.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 1.6 rebounds a game.  The loss of Eric is huge for the Owls who now feature two players taller than 6’6 with one of them being the rarely used fifth year senior Dutch Gaitley.

Without Eric the Owls are facing a huge uphill battle and not just on Wednesday night, but for the rest of the season. The Owls will now have to rely on senior Lavoy Allen who is averaging 10.7 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. Allen has had 4 double doubles in his last 7 games and recently became Temple’s all time leader in rebounds. While Allen has been playing strong lately, if he gets into foul trouble it’s all over for the Owls.

Duke ranks 7th in the nation in points per game (83) and is tied for 34th in the nation in rebounds (38.3) so they kill you when they have the ball, and make you pay when you miss. With Eric out of the picture Duke will likely drive the lane to try and get Allen into early foul trouble, forcing the hand of Coach Fran Dunphy. If Allen happens to get into foul trouble it will surely free up space for Duke’s big guys Mason Plumlee, and Kyle Singler to pound the offensive glass whenever Duke has a rare miss.

But Eric isn’t the only Owl who is nursing an injury, with breakout junior Scootie Randall injured with a fractured foot. Randall is reportedly going to play come Wednesday but scenes from Sundays game against St. Joes saw Scootie limping pretty badly. So even if Randall does end up playing there is a good chance he won’t be a factor because of the injury.

Without Eric and Randall the Owls starting lineup will likely look the one that fans saw on Sunday with Lavoy Allen, Rahlir Jefferson, Juan Fernandez, Ramone Moore, and freshmen Aaron Brown, which doesn’t scream upset. I expect the Owls to play their normal strong defense, but Duke is just too big, and talented for the Owls to have a prayer.

The loss of Eric doesn’t just hurt the Owls for this season, but possibly seasons to come. The Owls are lacking serious size for next season. Eric will be back for his senior season but after that you’re looking at two redshirt freshmen; Anthony Lee, and Jimmy McDonnell. The 6’9 Lee redshirted after undergoing back surgery in the fall. McDonnell was originally headed to division II Umass-Lowell before earning a scholarship at Temple with strong play last summer. McDonnell needs to add some muscle as he is stick thin, and a project.

Fran Dunphy hasn’t done the best job of adding size for upcoming years, but that’s not for lack of trying. Temple was on a short list for four star center CJ Aiken, who ultimately chose St. Joes. Carmel Bouchman was a 6’8 forward from Israel who was on the team last season, but decided he would return to Israel.  While Dunphy has tried adding size in recent years it seems the only players he is getting commitments from are guards, and small forwards. Much is the same with the current recruiting class as Temple will look to add highly touted PG Will Cummings from the Providence School in Jacksonville Florida. Cummings is likely the heir apparent to Juan Fernandez who will be a senior next season.

Temple needs to advance in the tournament this year. They haven’t gotten out of the first round in 10 years and in order to have a serious shot at some top recruits they will need to show they can compete on a national level. They are currently in the running for five star center Daniel Ochefu who is a part of the class of 2012. Temple is in the running, and was in attendance for Temple defeating ranked Georgetown, but Temple will have to lure the 6’10 center away from more prestigious programs. He is said to favor Georgetown at the moment.

Temple can’t afford to go one and done again. While Villanova was able to succeed with a four guard set, they are the only one who was able to pull it off successfully. For Temple to succeed this time next month they need a clean bill of health for the rest of the way, and for guys like sophomore Khalif Wyatt and Rahlir Jefferson to really step up with the absence of Eric, and possibly Randall.

Success isn’t a sprint, but a marathon. Hopefully this Temple team is prepared for the latter.