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College Notebook: Big Five Saturdays

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 1

It’s not the same as it used to be, but there is some comfort in having a pair of Big Five doubleheaders on consecutive Saturdays.

These aren’t the traditional doubleheaders that used to occur with regularity at the Palestra. In fact, only one of the four games is at the Palestra – and that game doesn’t even involve Penn, which often used to face a non-league opponent as part of the doubleheaders – but having back-to-back Big Five games on the same day brings back a dose of nostalgia for those of us fortunate enough to experience the real thing.

The first game this Saturday takes place at the Palestra. Villanova, ranked 23rd in the nation, takes on winless La Salle today (3 p.m.) at the Palestra. That should leave just enough time to get to Saint Joseph’s by 5:30 p.m., when the Hawks host Temple.

The commute will be more difficult next Saturday when Saint Joseph’s visits Villanova (2 p.m.) for the latest installment of the Holy War, and then Penn visits La Salle at 4 p.m. Perhaps fans wanting to attend both games could get to La Salle in time for the second half.

We’re probably never going back to the days of the Big Five doubleheaders at the Palestra, but it still feels special to have four city rivals facing each other in consecutive games on what could become a new tradition: Big Five Saturdays.


BIG FIVE TIME: Villanova is playing all of its Big Five rivals during the first 11 days of December. After Saturday’s game against La Salle, the Wildcats host Temple on Wednesday (8:30 p.m.) and Saint Joseph’s next Saturday (2 p.m.) before visiting Penn on Tues., Dec. 11 (7 p.m.).


BACK IN TOP 25: After dropping out of the Top 25 for the first time since December 2013 following a lopsided 73-46 loss to Michigan and a 76-68 overtime loss to Furman, with both games at home, Villanova moved back into the Top 25 by winning the Advocare Invitational in Orlando, Fla. The Wildcats (5-2) beat Canisius, Oklahoma State and then-14th-ranked Florida State in the championship game.


FAST START: Temple (6-1) is off to its best start since the 2012-13 team started its season 8-1. The Owls kept that hot streak going Tuesday by edging host Missouri, 79-77.

Quinto Rose and Shizz Alston Jr. are providing balance by averaging 17.4 points apiece. Nate Louis-Pierre is averaging 11.9 points. The Owls are playing terrific defense, as is evident by their 10.1 steals per game, which ranks eighth in the country. The Owls’ ball-hawking skills, if you’ll pardon the pun, will be put to the test Saturday against Saint Joseph’s, which is averaging eight turnovers per game, the second-lowest average in that nation.


TEAM EFFORT: Saint Joseph’s scored 57 points during the second half Wednesday to defeat Illinois-Chicago, 89-75, and end a three-game losing streak. The Hawks had lost three straight games, including a 97-90 loss to 13th-ranked West Virginia, after starting the season with three straight wins. Lamarr Kimble scored a career-high 31 points against Illinois-Chicago, which held an eight-point halftime lead. Charlie Brown Jr. scored a career-high 37 points last Saturday during an 87-85 loss to William & Mary.

Brown (24.1 points per game) and Kimble (18.3) are leading the way, but the Hawks aren’t a two-man team. Freshman Jared Bynum (11.9) and Taylor Funk (11.7) are making significant contributions on offense, and Pierfrancesco Oliva leading the team in rebound (8.7 per game) and is closely behind Bynum and Kimble in assists. Center Anthony Longpre has made a difference at the defensive end.


QUAKERS ROLLING: Despite the loss of Ryan Betley, last year’s leading scorer, to a season-ending knee injury in the season opener, Penn is off to a 6-2 start. The Quakers’ only losses came at Paradis Jam, where they lost to 12th-ranked Kansas State, 64-48, and Oregon State, 74-58. In both of their loss, Penn challenged the bigger school during the first half before fading during the second half.

The Quakers, as has been the case the past two seasons, are at their best when their scoring is balanced. Devon Goodman leads the Quakers in scoring (15.3 points), but AJ Brodeur (11.9) and freshman Bryce Washington (7.9), who had 16 points during Tuesday’s win over Delaware State, have also led Penn in scoring in individual games. Antonio Woods (10.0 points) and Michael Wang (8.8) have been reliable scorers, and Jake Silpe (7.0), Max Rothschild (5.9) and Jarrod Simmons (2.4) have reached double figures.

Penn will face a tough challenge Tuesday (7 p.m.) against visiting Miami, which handed La Salle an 85-49 defeat on Thanksgiving as part of the Wood Legacy tournament. Speaking of the Wooden Legacy, Penn will be part of the 2019 tournament field.


EXPLORERS SEARCH FOR 1ST WIN: La Salle is still searching for its first win under first-year head coach Ashley Howard. The former Villanova assistant likely won’t find that win Saturday against his former team. Next up for La Salle will be Bucknell at home on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and then Penn at home next Saturday (4 p.m.).

After losing by single digits during three of their first four games, including a season-opening 75-67 loss to Temple and an 89-84 loss to Drexel, the Explorers lost all three games at the Wooden Legacy (to Miami, Northwestern and Grand Canyon) by double digits.


UPS AND DOWNS: After losing its first two games, Drexel reeled off three straight wins. But the Dragons have lost their past two games, to Bowling Green and NJIT. We should find out soon if the Dragons are better than many people thought or if their winning streak was a product of playing inferior opponents.

The Dragons have received a nice boost from graduate student Trevor John (13.0) points per game), who attended Cal Poly. Alihan Demir (13.9) leads the Dragons in scoring, but the Dragons have seven players averaging at least nine points per game. The fact that Drexel isn’t relying on one or two players every night for scoring is a positive sign.


LOOKAHEAD: In addition to the Big Five doubleheaders discussed in the first item of this article, big games this week include Miami at Penn (Tuesday), Temple at Villanova (Wednesday), Saint Joseph’s at Princeton (Wednesday) and UMBC, which pulled of the historic first-round upset of No. 1 seed Virginia in the NCAA Tournament, at Drexel (Saturday).

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