The Temple Owls and the top-ranked Villanova Wildcats will square off at The Pavilion on Tuesday, December 13th in a winner-take-all matchup as the victor will be awarded this year’s Big 5 crown.
Not only are the Villanova Wildcats (10-0) the defending national champions and the #1 ranked team in the country, they also have won the last three Big 5 titles and are currently on a 17-game win streak in Big 5 matchups. In fact, the senior class for the Wildcats which includes leading scorer Josh Hart, last year’s title game hero Kris Jenkins, and big man Darryl Reynolds has not lost a single game against a Big 5 rival. Along with their impressive Big 5 resume, Villanova’s senior class has not lost a game played at The Pavilion and are 39-0 at their on-campus arena.
The Owls (7-3) have not won the Big 5 title outright since their magical 2009-2010 season (they shared with St. Joe’s in ’11-’12 and La Salle in ’12-’13) and are looking to knock off their 8th Top 10 team during Fran Dunphy’s ten-year rein as the Owls head coach. There is not a single player on Temple’s roster that has beaten the Wildcats as their last win against ‘Nova dates back to December 2012.
“You have to play your best basketball game, there’s no other way around it.” said Coach Dunphy at a press conference Monday afternoon when he was asked about trying to take down the top-ranked Wildcats.
Villanova has shown they are one of the most complete teams in the country en route to their undefeated start. Behind Josh Hart, who is coming off a career-high 37 points in their last win against Notre Dame, the Wildcats offense is rated the second in adjusted offensive efficiency in the country by Pomeroy. Hart is averaging 19.5 points, 7 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game as the Wildcats are putting up an average of 80.2 points per contest.
Along with the experienced Josh Hart, the Cats have gotten a lot of production from Kris Jenkins, sophomore Jalen Brunson, and 6’7 sophomore Mikal Bridges. The seniors Hart and Jenkins, Brunson, and Bridges are responsible for 70% of the points scored and will continue to carry the load with the Wildcats missing a couple of key contributors.
Freshman Omari Spellman was declared academically ineligible in late September and junior guard Phil Booth will be sidelined for a few more weeks with a knee injury. With the two impactful losses, the Wildcats have stayed with a seven-man rotation throughout the season.
The last game was Villanova’s toughest test as they overcame an 11-point deficit to defeat then 23rd-ranked Notre Dame 74-66 in Newark, NJ. The Wildcats will have to play well throughout the evening to avoid the upset against a streaky but dangerous Temple Owls.
“I’ve never beat them (Villanova) since I have been here, so I would love to beat them my senior year” said captain Josh Brown on Monday afternoon.
Many thought Josh Brown would not be seeing the court this season after the senior suffered an Achilles injury this May, but the point guard has made an incredible comeback and returned to the Owls rotation back on November 30th in a win at St. Joe’s. Brown has made a major impact by averaging 7.5 points and little more than 2 rebounds and assists per game while shooting 58% from the field and provides veteran leadership, which the Owls will desperately need to come out of The Pavilion with a win.
Along with the huge role Josh Brown has played, the Owls will look to junior Obi Enechionyia and sophomore Shizz Alston Jr. to carry to workload on offense.
Shizz Alston Jr. and Quinton Rose have been pleasant surprises for the Owls this season and deserve a ton of credit for their 7-3 start. Alston is the second leading scorer with 12.6 points per game and has done a tremendous job manning the point guard position as Josh Brown continues to get back into playing shape. Alston Jr. has 46 assists to only 10 turnovers on the season, and that assist to turnover ratio is seventh in the country.
The 6’10 Enechionyia is a walking-matchup problem for opponents and has done it all for the Owls. Enechionyia’s 18.6 points 7.7 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks per game leads the team. Enechionyia has exploded twice on the road this season with two 26 point performances (at UMass and at St. Joe’s), but has run into a bit of a rough patch in the last few games. Obi has shot 34% from the field the last three contests compared to his 51.3% clip before that stretch. The play of Obi will make or break Temple’s chances off knocking off the defending national champions.
As one can expect from all Big 5 games, this matchup between the Owls and Wildcats will be a physical and emotional one and will be played in front of a packed gymnasium with passionate fans cheering on ‘Nova and the Cherry and the White respectively.
Tomorrow’s game will tip-off at 7p.m. and can be viewed on Fox Sports 1.