Commentary

Dionte Christmas a gift for Temple

Updated: December 17, 2008, 8:02 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Christmas came early for the Temple Owls.

This Temple program has kept up with Hall of Famer John Chaney's philosophy of playing tough opponents during the non-conference schedule. Last Saturday's 88-72 win over then number-eight Tennessee sent a message to the competitive and underrated Atlantic 10 -- watch out for the Owls, baby!

Temple was convincing against Tennessee mainly because of the performance of Dionte Christmas. He scored 30 of his game-high 35 points in the second half. Christmas hit a total of seven trifectas and he can be so dangerous from long range.

That victory ended an impressive Vols streak of 27 straight wins over non-ranked non-conference competition. The explosive Christmas is trying to win the A-10 scoring title for a third straight season. It was Temple's first win over a top 10 squad since Chaney led the Owls past then number-six George Washington in 2006.

I've often said the Atlantic 10 is a lot tougher than people believe. It starts at the top with a Xavier club that is unblemished heading into this weekend's showdown against Duke. Dayton is off to a great start that includes a win over Marquette; the lone Flyers loss came against a tough Creighton squad.

Rhode Island, led by outstanding shooter Jimmy Baron, is an improved squad that took Duke to the wire. Then you look at the Owls, a team that played unbeaten Clemson tough before losing by four points. Temple has wins over the College of Charleston and Penn State to go with the upset of Tennessee.

Dunphy's squad closes December with a couple of challenges on the schedule -- against Kansas and Villanova -- plus a trip to Long Beach State.

Last season, Temple looked like it was going nowhere after posting a 6-8 record in its first 14 games. Then came a turnaround that led to an NCAA berth.

If Christmas is on fire, keep an eye on the Owls. This team can create some havoc and develop into an upper-echelon club in an underrated A-10 conference.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.