As the calendar changes to 2012, we may also be turning the page on an era of Big Five basketball.
With the exception of the Saint Joseph’s teams centered around Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, Temple and Villanova have dominated the Big Five this century. Since 2005, the Owls and Wildcats have certainly been the class of the City Six (including Drexel). But the city’s pecking order may be starting to change.
As we enter the final day of 2011, Villanova is 7-6 with a tough game against nationally ranked Marquette on New Year’s Day. Temple is 9-3, but the Owls needed overtime to beat Buffalo on Wednesday and barely pulled out a three-point win over Delaware on Friday.
The top challenger to the throne is, once again, Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks are 10-3 and riding a five-game winning streak entering their Dec. 31 matchup at Harvard, which is ranked in the top 25. Among those five straight wins is a 74-58 triumph over Villanova.
A more surprising challenger to the Owls’ and Wildcats’ supremacy is La Salle. The Explorers (9-4) won seven of their last eight games entering their Dec. 31 meeting with Hartford. Before anyone downplays the Explorers’ competition, let’s note that they lost to Villanova in overtime and lost to Pittsburgh by just four points. The lone loss in the Explorers’ last eight games is a four-point loss at Delaware, which took Temple to the limit Friday before losing by three.
This doesn’t appear to be a one-year aberration, either. Earl Pettis is the only senior among La Salle’s top five scorers, which also includes a junior (Ramon Galloway), two sophomores (Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills) and a freshman (Jerrell Wright).
The young Hawks don’t have a senior on their roster. Junior Carl Jones leads the Hawks in scoring. He’s joined in double figures by sophomores Langston Galloway, C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts.
It appears it’s time for the Owls and Wildcats to move over and make room. They’ve got company at the top.
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MARTELLI MILESTONE: Congratulations to Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli for becoming the all-time career wins leader in the program’s history. Wednesday’s 81-50 triumph over Morgan State was the 310th victory of Martelli’s career, moving him ahead of Bill Ferguson (1928-53) on the Hawks’ all-time list. Martelli enters Saturday’s game at Harvard with a 310-212 record in 17 seasons.
DRAGONS BREATHING FIRE: Another team approaching 2012 on a roll is Drexel. The Dragons’ 77-69 victory over Fairfield, powered by Samme Givens’ career-high 31 points, was their fifth straight win. Drexel tries to close out 2011 with a victory against visiting St. Francis.
DUKE WEEK: A pair of local teams will face seventh-ranked Duke (11-1) this week. Penn (6-7) faces the Blue Devils on New Year’s Day in Cameron Indoor Stadium, where Duke has won 42 consecutive games.
Temple faces Duke on more neutral turf Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center. That’s a home game for the Owls, but the Blue Devils typically have a large turnout of fans for their Philly appearances. By the way, Duke’s eight-ranked women’s team held off Temple’s comeback attempt, 65-54, on Friday at McGonigle Hall.
HOMECOURT ADVANTAGE: The Saint Joseph’s women’s team (8-4), which has won six of its last seven games, has won all six of its games at Hagan Arena this season. The Hawks’ men’s and women’s basketball teams are a combined 13-0 at Hagan Arena.
STREAK ENDS: The Villanova women’s team was nipped by Monmouth, 49-48, in the finals of the Hawk Holiday Classic on Monday, ending the Wildcats’ winning streak at seven games. Villanova (10-3), which beat La Salle, St. Joe’s and Temple during December, will attempt to start a new winning streak Tuesday when it will host Pittsburgh.
WILD WEDNESDAY: All of the City Six men’s teams except for Villanova will be in action Wednesday. As mentioned earlier, Temple will host Duke at Wells Fargo Center. La Salle faces a tough test the same night when it hosts Xavier. Drexel hosts Towson; St. Joe’s and Penn hit the road to take on Duquesne and Lafayette, respectively.