The world of college athletics has seen a state of flux with schools and conferences in a fluid motion. There has been a constant throughout all of this time. That constant is the continued city rivalry in Philadelphia known as the Big Five. The five division one schools in the city (La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova) have continued to play one another since the mid 1950’s. The next city series game is set for Sunday, December 15, 2013 as the La Salle Explorers will visit the Villanova Wildcats. The game will be on Fox Sports 1 with Ron Thompson in the broadcast booth along with Chris Carrino. He has a unique perspective having seen the Big Five during the time spent in Philadelphia, and from outside the city being a member of the Thompson family of coaches. He likes the rivalries and views it as a positive for the schools on and off the court.
“Rivalries are good for schools, the city, and it is a competitive thing,” said Thompson. “Competition helps rivalries to be developed. Philly has kept it going.”
The Big Five has been a part of the fabric of the city, and at one time was a major part of the national scene. In 1979 when Penn went the Final Four they played and defeated Syracuse in a regional semifinal. Jim Boeheim warned his Orangemen that Penn was a Big Five team. Villanova won the national championship in 1985, and have returned to the Final Four. But the Big Five competition has not kept a hold on the national audience. Does that really matter?
“It is not as big nationally, but it doesn’t have to be global to have interest,” Thompson said. “In D.C. or Chicago it does not have the same affinity for the Big Five as in Philly. It doesn’t have to be. Regional rivalries can be healthy.
Big Five games have always produced the unexpected. The games can be analyzed before the teams take the court, but conventional wisdom doesn’t always hold true. Villanova Coach Jay Wright always warns his team that there are crazy games and the only way to truly prepare is to go through it.
When the Wildcats take the floor they can attack their opponent many different ways. They can shoot from outside, or take the ball to the basket. Villanova can play big or small. And the #10/#14 team in the nation has shown success finding a way to win all nine times this season. In their last game forward JayVaughn Pinkston put up 27 points on archrival Saint Joseph’s and guard James Bell scored 24 points and took down 14 rebounds. Both players average over 17 points per game. Guard Darrun Hilliard scores 13.8 points per game and has handed out 29 total assists. The Blue and White is undefeated with a relatively young team getting contributions from first year players Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis. Sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono can fill it up from deep, and he has 29 assists this season.
“They’re doing an incredible job that no one expected,” Thompson said. “They are playing well and Jay has this team playing selfless. They have five or six guys that can get you 20 points. It is hard to prepare for that. They can hurt you.”
The Wildcats can exert defensive pressure as well. La Salle (5 – 4 this year) will need to be prepared. However, the Explorers have guard Tyreek Duren at the point. He was third in the voting for last season’s Big Five Player of the Year. He averages nearly 4 assists per game this season. Duren can score as well with a team high 13.6 points per game. Fellow guards Tyrone Garland and Sam Mills can get hot from beyond the arc as they have 12 three-pointers each this season. La Salle can go inside with forward Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright. Zack, who averages 10.2 points and 9.3 rebounds, has put up four consecutive double-doubles. Wright averages 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
“They’re playing solid,” Thompson observed. “Their defense is ahead of their offense. They are trying to find a flow on offense.”
The sight of the Wildcats may bring out that flow in the Dr. John Giannini coached Explorers. And it has been mentioned before that this is a Big Five game. Each team can present different problems to the other. Who handles the adjustments best should win. La Salle defeated Villanova 77 – 74 in overtime at their home Gola Arena. This year the game is at the Pavilion at Villanova.
“Villanova remembers losing to La Salle,” Thompson said. “They (Villanova) will enter the game with a bad taste in their mouth. La Salle knows that and they will have to be ready.”
“You can’t look at the records. In a Big Five game records go out the window. It is us vs. them. The kids have played together; they are familiar with each other. It is our school vs. their school.”
Tip is 2:30 PM Eastern time on Fox Sports 1.
Written By: Glenn Papazian