Joe Dzuback is an RTC correspondent. He filed this column after Villanova’s win over Pennsylvania Saturday, reflecting on the history and importance of Big 5 basketball in Philadelphia.
Five schools all within a 12-mile radius of center city Philadelphia square off each season to play a 10-game, round-robin series that decides who has the bragging rights to the city’s collegiate basketball scene. There is a Crosstown Shootout, an Iron Bowl (for both basketball and football), Oaken Buckets, Backyard Brawls and Border Wars, but no single city has five schools willing to set aside so much of their 29-game allotted schedule to settle a local rivalry. The Big 5 is not an informal agreement (this is Philadelphia we are talking about, everything is in writing), as the first agreement, a five-year deal that ran from the 1955-56 season through the 1959-60 season has been renegotiated (and modified) and re-signed at regular intervals since.
The Big 5 Has Captured Philadelphia's College Hoops Hearts for Over 50 Years
Over the last 56 years, from the first game played under the joint agreement on December 14, 1955 (Saint Joseph’s beat Villanova, 83-70) to the last game last season (on March 5, Temple defeated La Salle, 90-82), the five Philadelphia schools played 520 games using the original round-robin format, except for the years between 1992 and 2000 when each school’s four-game slate was reduced to two. What is the tie that binds one of America’s most prestigious private colleges, founded by one of the country’s Founding Fathers (Penn), to three Catholic universities founded nearly a hundred years later (St. Joe’s, Villanova and La Salle), and a public university with an alumni base of 270,000 (Temple)? “It began… as a loveless marriage,” wrote Rich Hoffman in his introduction to The Big 5-0, a commerative to the 50th anniversary of the Big 5 published in 2005. “Everybody walked to the altar while trying to figure out exactly what angle the other guys were working.”
As summer heats up, the various Team USA basketball rosters also start rounding into shape. One of the better such international events that includes collegians, the World University Games, is scheduled to occur from August 13-23 in Shenzhen, China. As such, the training camp roster of 22 current college players was released on Wednesday with a goal of cutting the group to a final 12 in late July. The remaining dozen will spend early August practicing as a team before traveling overseas to represent the United States in an event that hasn’t been kind to the Yanks in the last decade. Perhaps as a result of increasingly fewer talented players still in college or representative of the world catching up to the USA in basketball, this team has only finished first or second once in its last four outings — the 2005 team led by Shelden Williams (Duke) went 8-0 on its way to collecting gold in Turkey. Two years ago, the 2009 team went 7-1 with its sole blemish a one-point semifinal defeat to Russia to bring home the bronze. This year’s team will have its work cut out for it in an increasingly competitive international landscape. Here’s the training camp roster:
It’s a guard-heavy group, as Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs, Xavier’s Tu Holloway, Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins, and Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor all have All-America potential in 2011-12. This isn’t surprising, as many of the better big men in the game have either opted out of international basketball this summer (Kentucky’s Terrence Jones; Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger), or they’re moving on to NBA riches (Arizona’s Derrick Williams; Georgia’s Trey Thompkins; Kansas’ Morris Twins; Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson). It’s notable that Syracuse’s Scoop Jardine (2010), Northwestern’s John Shurna (2010, 2009), Kentucky’s Darius Miller (2009), Gibbs (2009), and Alabama’s JaMychal Green (2008) have all had previous international experience, which would presumably give each a leg up to make Jim Boeheim’s team this summer.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse gives props to the Hopson coiffure and reveals his man crush on Jay Wright — then alienates the entire city of Pittsburgh. We’re sorry…ya Yinzers.
The Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…..listening to a Pac-10 nail-biter – that’s right, listening – on a radio this week since the game wasn’t televised. Everything in today’s media market is so visual and video-based, and you can get almost any game on the tube with the right cable package. But there was something very appealing about trying to picture exactly what was happening on the court with 2.5 seconds left using just a single voice and the crowd noise during the Washington vs Stanford game. I’d argue it even upped the drama.
I LOVED…..how I found myself wondering just how in the world Villanova coach Jay Wright always has short, athletic guards every year who can do it all. Every. Freaking. Year. Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and so on. While I always have to pick against ‘Nova in the tourney because I think they’ll run into someone too big, you have to appreciate the fearless perimeter play that Wright gets from his small guys.
Fisher Is Yet Another Product of the Jay Wright Short Athletic Guard Factory
I LOVED…..Scotty Hopson’s Scottie Pippen haircut. So classic. When you have by far the best name ever for a basketball player, it’s important that you back it up with the best basketball haircut of all time – the unbeatable fade. Props to you Scotty, you’re doing Pippen and Will Smith proud with the ‘do.
After a relatively slow opening week things begin to start picking up this week so I’ll be going back to the daily version of SYT to avoid writing a 5,000 word post. RTC will be doing our “world famous” RTC Live from multiple major games this week so it’s definitely worth checking out. That feature has become so popular that our correspondent at the Davidson–Butler game noticed that another writer in the row in front of him on Saturday was following the simultaneous Creighton-Dayton game on RTC Live. Anyways, there are two games on the slate for tonight and coincidentally we will be covering both of them. Some of you may think this is even more shameless self-promotion (and it is to a certain extent), but as always if you think another game should be mentioned or if I make a careless mistake let me know in the comment section.
Miami (OH) at #5 Kentucky at 7 PM on Big Blue Sports, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Unfortunately, Wally Szczerbiak will not be in action although we hear that he has some free time now. Fortunately, John Stevens will be there with RTC Live though as well as some guy named John Wall that you may have heard some people talking about the past few months. Quite frankly the RedHawks, fresh off an 11-point loss to mighty Towson to open the season shouldn’t be much of a hurdle for the Wildcats, but this game is worth watching to see how the young Wildcats function in a regular season game with Wall playing alongside Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt. Coming into the season it was widely expected that Bledsoe would serve as a backup to Wall, but in the first game of the season it was Bledsoe not Wall (serving the 2nd game of his split suspension for a suspected infraction relating to his time in AAU) who stole the show. It will be interesting to see how those two play with Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. Scoring shouldn’t be a problem given the prodigious talents of those four players, but the thing to look for if you are wondering if this Wildcat team can win a NCAA title is their defensive effort. Although we doubt you will see “Rick Pitino at Kentucky” level defense out of these young Wildcats don’t be surprised if their effort is much better after their first game (minus Wall) left John Calipari wanting more defensively out of his team. If they heed Calipari’s advice and turn up the defensive intensity, it could be a very long night for the RedHawks.
Pennsylvania at #6 Villanova at 7 PM: It looks like this game will not be on television, but RTC has all the coverage you need with yet another installment of RTC Live. As for the game itself, this rivalry (both teams are part of Philadelphia’s famous “Big 5”) hasn’t quite lived up to expectations in recent years. Since the Quakers last beat the Wildcats with Ugonna Onyekwe, Koko Archibong, and Andrew Toole in both 2001 and 2002 the two programs have gone in opposite directions. Penn is no longer even a contender to win the Ivy League title (it is Cornell‘s to lose this year) while Villanova is coming off a Final Four trip highlighted by one of the best NCAA Tournament games ever and is expected to contend for another Final Four trip this season. The story here is obviously the Wildcats and how they will continue to develop without Dante Cunningham controlling the paint. The Wildcats are loaded in the backcourt with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes leading the way, but will need to develop an inside game if they want to replicate the success of last season or even the 2006-07 team that featured Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, and Allan Ray. While I don’t think this year’s backcourt is as good as it was in 2006-07, they do have an impressive set of newcomers –f reshmen McDonald’s All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns and another McDonald’s All-American in Duke transfer Taylor King — who might enough to push them over the top. The real key to Villanova’s success this year may be how Antonio Pena and freshman Mouphtaou Yarou, who just started playing basketball in 2004, develop as threats on the inside. Normally, I wouldn’t give Penn a chance in this game, but it is rivalry game and Penn looked better than expected (remember this is a relative thing) in a loss at Penn State and Villanova looked a bit shaky in the 1st half against Farleigh Dickinson on Friday night so you never know. Regardless, Penn’s Tyler Bernardini and Jack Eggleston will have their hands full against a Jay Wright-led team that is deeper and more talented than Glen Miller‘s crew.
RTC asked its legion of correspondents, charlatans, sycophants, toadies and other hangers-on to send us their very favorite March Madness memory, something that had a visceral effect on who they are as a person and college basketball fan today. Not surprisingly, many of the submissions were excellent and if you’re not fired up reading them, then you need to head back over to PerezHilton for the rest of this month. We’ve chosen the sixteen best, and we’ll be counting them down over the next two weeks as we approach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
If You’re Reading This, You Can Relate (submitted by Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6)
I turn 33 years old in less than a month and if there one’s constant in my life, it’s been sports. And if there’s one event each year that I look forward to more than any other, it’s the PBA Tour Finals. Okay, that’s a lie. It’s really the NCAA Tournament. My fondest sports memories as a kid, as a high school student, as a college student and as an “adult” are of the Big Dance. I have no one to thank for getting me hooked on the tournament but my father.
A 1959 Villanova graduate, my dad has rooted for the “Big V” as long as I can remember. In 1985, it finally paid off. Rollie and the ‘Cats miracle run to the title was the hook, line and sinker for me when it came to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, my mom made me go to bed that Monday night and I didn’t know of the ‘Cats win until the next morning. I still, to this day, have newspaper clippings and such from that game. From that moment, I became a Villanova fan for life.
I can’t fill out a bracket without somehow convincing myself that Villanova can make the Final Four. Example, you ask?
1995. ‘Nova had one of their best regular seasons in a long, long time led by the one-sock-up-wonder, Kerry Kittles. The were finally back in the tournament for the first time in a few years and the ‘Cats are a 3-seed and get Old Dominion in the first round. I naturally pick Villanova in the Final Four. It’s my freshman year of college and I’m a videographer for the Ohio University women’s basketball team and we are flying to Seattle for the NCAA Tournament. While in the air, ‘Nova is playing ODU. I thought the flight attendant was going to throw me out of the plane. I had one of those old-school walkmans with an AM/FM radio. As we crossed over Minnesota and the great northwest of the United States, I kept tuning in broadcasts of the game. I would catch a few minutes here, a few minutes there. The flight attendant must have told me 15 times to turn off the walkman! I refused. I didn’t care that I was putting the flight in jeopardy. Villanova was playing and they were going to overtime with OD-Who? As you may have guessed (or remembered), the ‘Cats lost, all but ruining my trip to the Emerald City. Luckily I was not arrested upon exit from the plane.
That’s just one of many Villanova heartbreak stories I’ve had following the ‘Cats all these years. But if nothing else, it always gives my dad and I something we can talk, bond, argue, second-guess and complain about come March.
I remember on my 12th birthday, Villanova upset Rex Chapman and UK on their way to an Elite Eight loss to the great Stacey King/Mookie Blaylock-led Oklahoma Sooners.
After the ’95 disaster, I’m convinced they’ll bounce back in ’96 & 97 only to watch them get upset in the second round by Louisville and Cal (led by Tony Gonzalez)
Finally, after another lenghty lay-off from the Dance, ‘Nova gets back in with these youngsters (Randy Foye, Allen Ray, Mike Nardi and Curtis Sumpter, who tore his ACL and didn’t get to play) Once again, I think they’re Final Four bound (when will I learn?!?!) But this year they actually give me hope. A win over New Mexico. A win over Florida. For the first time since 1988, they’re back in the Sweet Sixteen! A showdown with Carolina in the Carrier Dome. Do I need to remind you all of the phantom walk on Allen Ray in the final seconds? (1:05 mark) Enough said. Another heartbreaking end to the season.
2006. This might finally be the year. A #1 seed. They get the play-in winner for crying out loud! Oops. Monmouth gave the ‘Cats a war and ‘Nova barely got out alive. Not one of their proudest moments. But they did regroup to make it to the Elite Eight thanks to a memorable comeback against Boston College in the Sweet Sixteen. The headline in the Philly Daily News read “Villa-Thrilla!” Will Sheridan’s goaltend bucket will live in Main Line infamy and it gave me a memorable 30th birthday. Unfortunately, what happened after that was something I wish I could forget. A poor-shooting night ended the ‘Cats run (and a pretty good Florida team. How did they finish?).
Then came last year’s improbable march to the round of 16 as a #12 seed. Just a great coaching job by Jay Wright and a gutty effort by guys like Scottie Reynolds. I never thought they had a chance against Kansas, but for once, just getting there was enough for me.
Don’t think I can say the same for this year. This team is capable of big things. And again, I will talk myself into putting Villanova in my Final Four. Only this time I hope I’m right. And this time I won’t have to go to bed early!