Now sitting at 5-3 on the season, the Villanova Wildcats will need to look for a confidence-building win (oddly enough, following what I would consider a confidence-building loss). The foe will be their crosstown rivals, the Temple Owls.
Temple has been a program back on the rise in recent years, buoyed by the performances of Lavoy Allen, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore under the leadership of coach Fran Dunphy. Both teams are undefeated in the Big 5 thus far, and will be looking to claim Philly bragging rights for the next year.
After The Jump we'll take a closer look at Temple.
In recent weeks and months, tempers have been flaring amongst the respective fanbases as it's been widely reported that Villanova blocked a proposed move by Temple to the Big East. Call us pretentious, scared, or whatever you want, but that decision was purely business. We'd rather be the premier team in Philly (which we've worked for) than share that ground with a rival. And #ohbytheway, others (BC anyone?) have also stood in the way of rivals sharing their market.
Hostitlies aside, this game will definitely have some added meaning this year as Temple continues to look to make itself the premier basketball program in Philly while Villanova continues to defend it's crown.
While Villanova's slow start has been well-documented, Temple is also experiencing some issues early in the season, most notably because of the injuries to Michael Eric and Scootie Randall. The loss of Eric looms particularly large in this game, as it forces a young player in Anthony Lee to defend the post against Mouphtaou Yarou.
Say what you will about Yarou, but he's proven he can thrive when he knows he's better than his defender. Equal or better talent is another story, but Yarou clearly has the advantage in this matchup.
Another key for Villanova will be keeping the lid on Juan Fernandez. Every year it feels like Fernandez has a career day against 'Nova, with the trip to the Liacouras Center two years ago still causing nightmares for Jay Wright, certainly. Fernandez has the ability to get hot from the outside, which if you haven't been around here, is something of a weakness for Villanova.
Khalif Wyatt and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson may not be major names to Villanova fans, but they're quietly putting together very solid season. Hollis-Jefferson is an undersized forward at 6'6", and will likely be matched up with JVP. He can both score (9 ppg) and dish (2.4 apg) and will be a good test for Pinkston. Wyatt has proven a legit scorer with the injuries to Eric and Randall, as he's upped his scoring to over 14 ppg this season.
Ramone Moore is the final x-factor from the Villanova point of view. The senior guard made a huge jump in his junior season and has continued his strong play this year, averaging over 16 ppg. Look for a combination of Dominic Cheek, James Bell, and maybe a dash of Achraf Yacoubou to help slow down Temple's main threat.
Villanova made some major strides on offense the last time out, but they'll still need to be more consistent on the offensive end. Their 15 turnovers against Missouri almost always lead to fast-break points for the Tigers, and that was one of the major differences in the game. They'll need to take better care of the ball in a hostile environment. And it will be hostile.
While they shot the ball well from the outside at MSG (and they NEED to continue to shoot well), they must always remain in attack-the-rim mode. Temple, while typically a good defensive team, is inexperienced on the frontline and commits quite a few fouls. With Villanova's high FT conversion rate, that's an area they can take advantage of.
Finally, I'm looking for a big game out of JayVaughn Pinkston. He turned in his best performance in a 'Nova uniform at MSG and was a beast on the glass. This will be a rough and tough game against a rival, and feels like a place that he can thrive.
TEMPLE PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Prediction: With the losses of Randall and Eric, Villanova escapes with a 69-65 win.
The game airs on ESPN2 at 5:00 pm ET. We'll have our game thread up at 4:30. See you there!