The Philadelphia Big 5 is a grand tradition in college basketball, unmatched by any other city in America.
For the uneducated, the Big 5 consists of the five colleges in Philadelphia that play Division 1 basketball: LaSalle, Penn, St. Joseph’s, Temple, and Villanova. Occasionally, a sixth university – Drexel – gets mixed in, but they are usually a bit of an afterthought. If you enjoy rap analogies, (and who doesn’t?) they’re the Cappadonnna to the Big 5’s Wu-Tang Clan.
In other cities like Washington, the city schools sometimes rarely acknowledge each other’s existence, let alone play each other. For instance, when was the last time Georgetown played Maryland?
But in Philly, all of the schools play each other every season. While there is no official trophy on the line, the winner takes home bragging rights. In this case, that may be more valuable. Many of the players at the Big 5 schools are from the Philly area and have either grown up together or practice together in the offseason. So you can be assured that the winners will let the losers hear about it.
But just because the schools continue to play each other every season, it doesn’t mean relations are always good. On a few occasions, Villanova has taken actions that has threatened to break up the Big 5. They have traditionally carried an attitude that being part of the Big East conference, that they are somewhat above the Big 5.
To their credit, in recent seasons, Nova has definitely been the most successful team in the Big 5. They have been an NCAA tournament and Top 25 perennial, and they have been dominating the other Big 5 schools in their matchups.
The past few seasons, Temple has been right there with them. In December 2009, Temple beat Nova who was ranked in the top 10 at the time. In last year’s game, Villanova got revenge.
They will match up again today, and outside factors might make this year’s game the most heated ever.
Anyone familiar with college sports knows that football (or at least the money that football brings in to schools) dominates everything that happens. Recently, many of the major college sports conferences have been realigning. Traditional rivalries and geographical logic have been thrown out the window so that conferences and their schools can earn as much television money as possible.
The result has been somewhat chaotic, and Temple and Villanova have been caught in the middle.
With all the conference shakeups, the conference that has undergone the most turmoil is the Big East. They have seen defections by some of their members and have been furiously been trying to replace them. This is made more complicated because some of their basketball schools are not in the Big East for football, creating a conflict of interest between the football and basketball schools.
For instance, Villanova is a member of the Big East in basketball, but their football program, being at a lower-rated Division I-A level, is not.
(I’m aware that the NCAA recently changed the name of Division I-A to something else, but it’s stupid and I refuse to acknowledge it)
Temple’s football team used to be in the Big East, but because the program was so poor, they were kicked out. Now that their football program has improved to above average, they are trying to get in not only for football, but for all sports. The program seems like a natural fit and probably would have gotten in, except for one major obstacle: Villanova.
Nova realizes that their only real advantage over Temple in basketball is that they are in the higher exposure Big East, while Temple is a member of the second-tier Atlantic 10. Because of this, Nova has gotten some higher profile recruits that otherwise might have preferred Temple. If Temple were to also be a member of the Big East, they would probably dominate the lush Philly recruiting scene.
Villanova has also considered moving up to Division I for football and joining the Big East, and they feel that Temple being a member of the Big East might prevent that from happening.
So Villanova drew enough support from the other conference schools and made sure Temple was denied an invitation to the Big East. Naturally, this has not sit well with Temple supporters.
So today’s game – played at Temple’s Liacourus Center – should feature one of the more heated atmospheres you will see for a college basketball game.
Of course, once the ball is tipped, none of that will matter.
What will matter is the talent on hand. Villanova has a very young – no seniors on their roster – but talented team. Temple has a very senior-laden team, but they have some injured players, and as a result, they are extremely thin in the frontcourt. Both teams have strong backcourts, so it is reasonable to think that whichever team’s guards play the best will be the winner.
Another factor is that Temple is in the midst of a long home winning streak. They have not lost a game on their home court since January 2010 when they played the #2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks.
I feel that Temple’s experience and the homecourt advantage will be enough to take down their cross-town rivals. It might not get them into the Big East, but it certainly will feel good to put Nova in their proper place: Second best.
Go Temple! Nuck Fova!