If you're a Temple fan with opinions on the subject, and we know you're out there through the wonders of Twitter and Internet message boards, you might want to take note of this little nugget.
Without the services of junior TJ DiLeo, the Owls would be looking at a 15-8 record instead of an 18-5 mark at this juncture of the season. And while that might not sound like the end of the world, three wins makes a big difference when it comes to stuff like the RPI and NCAA Tournament seedings, and first place in the Atlantic 10 standings is a nice place for Temple to be heading into Saturday night's important conference game against Xavier at the Liacouras Center.
DiLeo, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound guard out of South Jersey's Cinnaminson High School who has already earned a marketing degree in three-and-a-half years, averages 2.6 points and 16.1 minutes per game, numbers that certainly won't make him an all-conference player. But if you ask around the Temple locker room, his contributions are very much recognized and appreciated.
"TJ is our X-factor," said senior guard Ramone Moore, Temple's leading scorer. "I've said that all along."
X-factor. Unsung hero. Glue guy. DiLeo is familiar with those labels, and he's fine with all of them. Although he once dropped 50 points in a game and was named South Jersey Player of the Year by both The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Courier Post after his senior season at Cinnaminson, he never built himself up to be a blue chip recruit, nor did Temple coach Fran Dunphy or his father, Tony, the senior vice president and assistant general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers.
And in his two-plus seasons on North Broad Street, DiLeo has been nothing more and nothing less than a role player. After injuring his ankle and taking a medical redshirt as a true freshman, DiLeo averaged 6.3 and 13.0 minutes per game, respectively, in his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons.
None of that has made DiLeo flinch. The stats and sporadic playing time don't matter.
"It takes a little bit to adapt," DiLeo told OwlScoop.com after Temple's 79-72 win over George Washington Wednesday. "But after a little while, you realize that winning is a lot more fun than being that guy that scores. Being on a winning team is so much more fun, and I've had a fair share of that since I've been here."
Listen to OwlScoop.com's interview with DiLeo here: TJ DiLeo
Getting back to that whole winning thing, DiLeo has indeed had a direct, measurable impact in three of Temple's victories this season.
Heading into the season opener against Penn at The Palestra, the Owls were already without senior swingman Scootie Randall, who was still working his way back from surgery to repair torn meniscus cartilage before ultimately deciding to redshirt this season, and junior guard Khalif Wyatt was serving a one-game suspension for playing in an unsanctioned summer league game. With that type of production and experience on the sideline, DiLeo played a career-high 38 minutes and contributed 10 points and five rebounds and a blocked shot in Temple's 73-67 overtime win.
The game, however, might have been decided in regulation had it not been for DiLeo's block. With the score locked at 57-57 with 42 seconds left, DiLeo guarded Quakers sharpshooter and leading scorer Zack Rosen as Rosen used a step-off move to create some space along the left wing. As Rosen elevated to take a three-pointer, DiLeo stuck with him and blocked the shot to preserve the tie and send the game to overtime.
Is there any guarantee Rosen's shot would have gone in? No, but considering he hit 7 of 10 threes that night, it's not a chance the Owls wanted to take.
Still not convinced? OK. Stick with us for a second.
Back on Dec. 30, an 8-3 Temple team was trailing a 5-5 Delaware team on the road with less than two minutes to play. After Moore missed a layup with 1:48 to go, Blue Hens forward Jamelle Hagins dropped in a layup that would have given Delaware a four-point lead, but DiLeo successfully took a charge on the play to negate the basket and create a turnover. A little more than a minute later, Wyatt drained the game-winning three-pointer that put the Owls ahead by one. Had DiLeo not taken the charge, Wyatt's three would have only gotten Temple within a point instead of putting it ahead by one.
Instead, the Owls held on for a 66-63 win. In 24 minutes, DiLeo scored four points on 2-for-2 shooting and added three rebounds, an assist, two steals and did not turn the ball over.
Big numbers? No. Winning numbers? Absolutely.
Flash forward to Wednesday night's game against George Washington, one Temple trailed by as many as 15 points in the second half. The Owls were consistently a step slow in guarding the perimeter or getting to a rebound or loose ball, all the critical things that can help a team chip into a 15-point deficit.
During a decisive run that turned the game around and helped Temple avoid another RPI-killing loss, DiLeo went to work. He swished a three that cut the Colonials' lead to four at 69-65. Moments later, he came up with a steal on the baseline and eventually got the ball to Wyatt, who dropped in a runner from the lane to close the gap to a point. Then Moore hit the game-winning three, and the Owls had dodged yet another bullet.
DiLeo's stat line read as follows: 13 minutes played, three points on 1-for-1 shooting, two rebounds, two steals and one assist. And again, no turnovers.
"When we have 'Mone, 'Lif and Juan (Fernandez) on the floor like that, I'm not always needed to score," DiLeo said. "I try to do the little things as much as I can. There will be games like this where that will really show and make a difference, so that's my job. It's nothing out of the ordinary for what I'm supposed to do, so I just try to go out there and do that every game."
And any way you slice it, DiLeo has directly impacted at least three of those games.
"Oh, my God, he sure did," Dunphy said when asked what DiLeo did to contribute to Wednesday's win. "He made a huge three, he makes a great steal. We can't live without TJ DiLeo. He could play two minutes or 22 and it doesn't matter to him. He's just about the team and he's a spectacular guy, and I'm just so happy that he came through for us like he did, because he deserves that. He's a great guy."
Back in 2008, some fans wondered why Dunphy gave a scholarship to a kid like DiLeo who was mostly generating recruiting interest from programs like Monmouth and Ivy League schools. Fair or unfair, that criticism comes with the territory sometimes.
Perhaps they understand now. After all, it's easy to understand that 18-5 is better than 15-8.
That's all TJ DiLeo and his teammates care about, anyway.
OwlScoop.com Editor John Di Carlo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.