Villanova is about to tip off Big 5 Play this year in a big way, as the Wildcats host the Penn Quakers at Jake Nevin Field House tomorrow night at 7 p.m.
Villanova is 47-16 all time against Penn, winning their last 14 games against their Ivy League foes. Here are three things to watch for in the game:
Penn, Mightier than the Swords (of Navy)
Penn is coming into the matchup at a respectable record of 5-3, with one of their most impressive performances being holding Navy to only 45 points. The Quakers have a double-digit average margin of victory on the season (80.1 PPG, 70.0 points scored against), and are led by local Downingtown native Ryan Betley, who is averaging 15.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, and 1.5 APG thus far in the young season. Betley, a sophomore, has built off the stellar ending to his freshman year, in which he missed the first nine games with a broken hand but had established himself as the top option offensively by March. Betley scored 26 points against Monmouth in his most recent game, a quadruple-overtime win, and he will look to keep up the hot shooting against one of the best teams in the country in Villanova. Fellow sophomore A.J. Brodeur has also gotten off to a hot start, averaging 6 rebounds a game to go along with 10.6 PPG, shooting nearly 60% inside the arc. Brodeur has started every game he has ever played at Penn, with the two likely to make for a dynamic duo over the next three seasons.
Jalen Rose to the Occasion
Jalen Brunson, the reigning Battle 4 Atlantis MVP, now is about to play in a matchup which has historically been favorable for him. Brunson has averaged 16.5 PPG in his two games against the Quakers, while shooting 50% or better from the field in both games. Brunson has been overshadowed to an extent by the stellar play of fellow junior Mikal Bridges, but make no mistake—Brunson is still the heart and soul of this team, and the number one option for the Villanova offense. Penn starts two guards who Brunson has a two inch height advantage or greater against, so look for Brunson’s good fortunes against the Ivy Leaguers continue for a third straight year in the first game of Big 5 play.
Kings of the Big 5
Villanova is coming off their title win in Atlantis, becoming the first school to win the prestigious tourney twice. The Wildcats have now won five-straight early season tournaments, a streak that started with their first trip to Atlantis in 2013. Villanova will now look to keep up another unbeaten streak, as they have not lost a game in Big 5 play since December 5th, 2012, when they lost to Temple by 15. The ‘Cats will not have the friendly confines of the Pavilion this year, so it will be interesting to see how the team adjusts to this disadvantage in a slate where every team has a sizable fanbase in the area. However, in this Big 5 opener, they’ll have the comfort of 2,000 screaming students who will have the rare opportunity to have a throwback moment at Jake Nevin Field House. It’s going to be a raucous environment.