Has Villanova Outgrown the Big 5?

Posted by Joe Dzuback (@vtbnblog) on December 15th, 2014

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

“…a loveless marriage… [that] began out of a desire that was neither pure nor innocent. They were just trying to make a buck”

— Rich Hofmann (The Big 5-0)

Has Villanova outgrown the Big 5? Like the question about the health of a terminally ill relative, it goes unasked after another big Villanova win over the weekend, but it was always the question behind the question. After Villanova beat his Hawks 74-46 (which followed the 93-63 beating the Wildcats delivered in 2013), Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli couched his answer as a “talent gap” problem. After his Explorers lost 73-52 to Villanova (they were beaten again this season, 84-70) La Salle head coach Dr. John Gianinni challenged his players with (to paraphrase), “Villanova won the game in June, not on the court but in the training room.” It was, he contended, a “dedication gap” problem.

Jay Wright and the Wildcats should be excited about their chances

So far this season, it’s business as usual for Jay Wright and crew. (Getty)

After losing 85-63 on Sunday, that universal question, “Why’d you lose?” was posed to Temple‘s senior guard, Will Cummings. He replied, “[Villanova’s] got a lot of weapons. So we really have to be conscious of every player on the court. You can’t leave somebody or they’re going to step up and make a play. That really tested our defense. We had some lapses and that was the tale.” When Temple head coach Fran Dunphy was handed the “talent/dedication/effort” question, he gave a nod to his players’ sense of responsibility but did not take the bait, “Well, [Villanova] has a very talented team. And I thought they played hard, We can play harder, we can do a better job. I appreciate those guys (Will Cummings and Obi Enechionyia) saying that [they lacked effort]. Maybe it was a loose ball here and there that we needed to get to. We didn’t. They did. They are a talented group, a really good basketball team.” That far and no further. Talent, effort or commitment gaps aside, the evidence suggests something is going on in the Big 5. In the 13 seasons Jay Wright has coached on the Main Line, Villanova has shared (two) or won outright (five) the Big 5 title seven times. Historically, Villanova has won or shared 22 Big 5 titles, second only to Temple (28) and gaining fast.

Wright, like Dunphy, turned the question around in his postgame press conference yesterday: “Things are cyclical. We have older guys. I think we’ve had two years where we have had older guys, and the other teams are younger. I think that makes a big difference in college basketball. And I think that’s what you’ve seen here the last couple of years.” Every one of the Big 5’s coaches shares a dedication to the City Series, but Wright, born and raised in suburban Bucks County just north of Philadelphia, lived and breathed the Big 5. An early innovator, Big 5 games were broadcast by local outlets and viewed throughout the Delaware Valley as Wright was growing up. He may have played point guard for Bucknell, but Wright returned to Philadelphia to pursue his coaching dream as an assistant on the staff of Villanova’s Rollie Massimino in the early 1990s. Wright loves the rivalry, but he loves the idea that the rivalry represents even more.


Through nearly 60 seasons, the five schools have played 556 games in the annual ritual that decides the best basketball team in Philadelphia. The table above contains the individual team records and their series records versus every other Big 5 team. The most competitive individual series is Saint Joseph’s vs. Temple — each has 28 wins over the other. The second most competitive series is Villanova vs. Temple. Villanova leads 29-27.

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