Villanova has dominated the Big 5 for about the last decade winning or at least sharing the title in 6 of those seasons (shared with Temple in 2005 and 2008). However, it is most recently that Penn, La Salle, St. Joes, and even more so Temple have evened the playing field a bit.
Historically pitted in the historic Palestra on Penn’s campus, Big 5 games throw records out the window for 40 minutes of pure Philadelphia hoops. Though the Wildcats had by all accounts a successful season last year, being ranked in the top 10 nearly all year and getting a 2 seed in the tournament, it was a mid-season upset loss at the Liacouras center to Temple that gave the Big 5 crown to the boys on Broad Street.
With only a couple miles separating the schools, and summers spent playing with and against each other in various summer leagues throughout Philadelphia, do not underestimate what it means to each player and each school to earn the bragging rights for the year.
For Villanova, they have gone through 3/4 of their Big 5 schedule already, beating St Joes at home, surviving scrappy Penn at the Palestra, and outlasting a tough La Salle team at Tom Gola arena. Nova was a huge favorite against both St. Joes and Penn, but both games were far from blowouts, speaking to the talent levels beginning to even out in the city.
With senior guard Corey Fisher not in the starting lineup for arguing with Jay Wright in practice, and Maalik Wayns out of the game when his head hit the floor trying to take a charge, it was the other senior guard Corey Stokes going for a career high 34 points to beat a young Penn team in the Palestra. Stokes was 11-15 from the field and 5-9 from three scoring over half of Villanova’s points and more importantly picking up the slack when he was most needed, keeping the Cats in the hunt for the Big 5 title. Villanova will need him to be a little more consistent and contribute in every game if they are going to have a chance in the Big East, which is rapidly becoming the best conference in college basketball. Starting with 4 teams in the top 25, two in the top 10, the Big East now was 7 teams in the top 25, 4 of which are top 10 and 5 in the top 15.
Villanova survived another scare against a young, athletic La Salle team who already in the young season has played tough non-conference games against Baylor and Missouri, hanging tough with both teams. Villanova got balanced scoring with 5 players in double digits, led by Maalik Wayns with 19 points. Corey Fisher added 16 points and 8 dimes and Corey Stokes also added 16 as Nova, who was down for most of the game, but used timely shooting from Dom Cheek and a late 3 point play from Wayns to push past a good Explorers team.
Jay Wright has to love the balance in the scoring column as both Stokes and Cheeks continue to establish themselves as legitimate threats alongside Fisher and Wayns. The Wildcats are also starting to get consistent play out of big men Mouph Yarou and Antonio Pena. Yarou averaging 8 pts and 9 boards a game while Pena is averaging 11 pts and 8 boards. It wont be the point totals of the big men that Jay Wright is worried about, with such a guard oriented team, but if both guys can rebound and alter or block shots, Nova will be tough to contend with.
With Nova 3-0 thus far in the Big 5, it will come down to the rematch with Temple on December 30th at Villanova that will decide the title for the Cats. Temple’s Big 5 season is only beginning with a home game against Penn and 2 each with La Salle and St. Joes following the battle with Villanova.
The match up this year will come down to two things, much like it did last year, rebounding and 3 point shooting. Juan Fernandez went off last year, going for 33 on 7-9 from three point range. He snuck up on the Wildcats, so don’t expect that performance to happen again, especially the way he has been playing so far this season. Temple shot 50% from three last year compared to 33% for Villanova. Look for Villanova to hound Fernandez and make him be a facilitator.
Temple will also need a big game out of senior center Lavoy Allen, who has started the season slow, but went for 17 rebounds last year in this game. The emergence of Mouph Yarou will definetely slow down Allen, as he and Pena inside will be a much better tandem than the Pena-Maurice Sutton duo that was dominated in last years matchup.
This Philadelphia rivalry will be a game of conflicting styles to say the least. For you football fans, think Eagles vs. Steelers. Villanova averages about 77 points a game and loves to get those fast guards up and down the court to get open looks. They will score quick and score often. Tennessee had success slowing Nova down and forcing them into a half court game and making them shoot deep threes, so look for Temple to do the same.
The Cats are at their best when they score, Temple is the opposite. Temple averages 65 points per game, good for 253rd in the NCAA. The Owls callingcard is play D and rebound. They want to slow the game down, use all of that 35 second shot clock, and play tough defensive basketball. However, you can play the best defense in the league, but if you can’t rebound, then the opponent is going to get second chances and force you to play 35 more seconds of defense. This is where the importance of Lavoy Allen comes. If Allen can clean the glass and limit Villanova’s second chances, Temple’s chances improve tenfold.
Only two opponents have been able to score 60 points against the Owls so far this season, Maryland (61) and Georgetown (65). Both are games that Temple won, after a disappointing showing in Orlando for the Old Spice classic. The Owl’s offense was inept to say the least in Orlando, but a couple things have changed since then, allowing the Owls the big wins in Maryland and against Georgetown.
Early in the season, the Owls were relying too much on Juan Fernandez and Lavoy Allen to score, when both players’ instincts are pass first. Ramon Moore has since established himself as the man on this Temple team. He gives the Owls a go to scorer when the shotclock is running down, and a guy that can take a game over, much like he did in his 30 point outburst against Georgetown. Off the bench, Temple has also found a spark in Norristown product Khalif Wyatt and a solid all around player in Rahlir Jefferson. Both have been big parts of the recent success for Temple. Temple had its early struggles, much like a lot of teams have in college basketball, but they seem to have found a formula and they are starting to look like the team that was ranked in the top 25 in the preseason.
Look for Villanova to get up and down the court while Temple grinds it out and tries to keep the game in the 60′s or less. With last years game in the Liacouras Center came a raucous Cherry and White crowd. Expect Nova’s fans to show up to this one looking for some payback. Temple will surely put up a good fight, but Nova will get their buckets in their own gym. I dont know if Temple will end up winning the rest of their Big 5 games following the Villanova game, but its a safe bet to say that this bout on New Years Eve Eve will decide the Big 5 and bragging rights for the year in Philadelphia, and should make for a heck of a basketball game.
Villanova 70 Temple 63
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.