After winning a thriller in Newark this past weekend, the Villanova Wildcats head home for a midweek matchup against the Temple Owls at the Pavilion. The game marks the final Big 5 game of the season, in which Villanova is a perfect 3-0.
While some fans bemoan the Big 5 schedule, the match-ups against Temple have been consistently competitive and Villanova narrowly leads the all-time series 46-42. Last year, the Owls missed out on a chance to knock off the then-#1 Wildcats at the Liacouras Center but, having angered Jalen Brunson, he destroyed their souls.
This year, the Owls get yet another shot at the king but will have to pull the upset at the Pavilion where Villanova has won 42 straight games. A victory over Villanova would be the Owls' third Top 25 win of the season having beaten then-#25 Florida State and then-#19 West Virginia already this year.
Temple currently sits at 7-3 on the season and is coming off a close win over DePaul this past weekend. The Owls led DePaul by 23 with just over 7 minutes left in the game before DePaul stormed back via a 20-2 run to cut the lead to five. The Owls hit their free throws down the stretch to escape with the win but the game proved to be another installment in what has been a season of close games for the Owls. Temple's three losses on the year (New Hampshire, UMass, and George Washington) were by a combined 11 points. As for their wins, ignoring a 20 point beatdown of lowly Manhattan, the Owls' other 6 wins came by a combined 34 points, all by single digits, and 4 out of the 6 by 6 or less points.
The Owls (87th on KenPom, 105th defense) are led by 6'10 junior Obi Enechionyia, who is averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting an absurd 49% (60+ attempts) from three. He averages almost 8 rebounds and 3 blocks per game and is going to be a challenge for the smaller Wildcats in the paint.
Helping Enechionyia is 6'4 guard Shizz Alston Jr., who averages 12.6 points and just under 5 assists per game. Temple's offense is balanced with four starters averaging double figures including freshman Quinton Rose. Senior point guard Josh Brown will be making only his fifth appearance this year as he comes back from tearing his achilles tendon this past offseason. The Owls move the ball well but are extremely streaky, overcoming a large deficit to defeat FSU, while forfeiting large leads against WVU and DePaul.
Will Brunson scorch the Owls again?
Last year, Jalen Brunson punished Temple for 25 points, going 9-11 from the field and 4-5 from deep. In seven Big 5 games, Brunson is averaging 16.5 points per game on 54% shooting while dishing out almost 4 assists per game. Against Notre Dame, Brunson played a sporadic 25 minutes, battling both fatigue and a foot injury, contributing 8 points on 3-8 from the field. Brunson raises his game to another level against the Big 5, specifically Temple, and it will be interesting to see whether he is able to establish himself in this game, especially if his minutes are limited by a nagging ankle injury.
Paging Kris Jenkins
While ‘Nova fans need not hit the panic button just yet, it has not gone unnoticed that Kris Jenkins has struggled to get going thus far this year. Over the past two games, Jenkins has gone 6-22 from the field and 3-12 from three. While the senior has been an emotional leader on the court and has contributed clutch buckets when necessary, he has yet to become the offensive weapon he was during the second half of last season. Since he's remembered for nailing his final shot, it's forgotten that even last year Jenkins struggled in the early months shooting just 38% in the month of December including 26% from three (10 for 38). Maybe the senior needs a few more games to get hot but, regardless, Villanova's lack of depth means that the Wildcats need Jenkins to start contributing fast.
Time for a (Wild)cat nap
With Spellman sidelined and Phil Booth currently out, the Wildcats are thinner than expected at this point in the season. While they've managed to stay perfect, four players are averaging over 28 minutes a game with Josh Hart coming off of having just spent 37 minutes on the floor against Notre Dame. Tired legs and decreased stamina are a concern right now but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
If ‘Nova can escape Temple, the Wildcats will be 11-0 going into a two week window wherein they will play just two home games, the first being against American over a week from now and the second being the conference play tip-off against DePaul. While a season retrospective typically identifies a game as the turning point, it may very well be this well-timed two week break that enables the Wildcats to tear up the Big East.