After getting back on track with a big win over Oklahoma at the Wells Fargo Center, the Villanova Wildcats will be back in the comfort of Finneran Pavilion for a Big 5 matchup with Penn.
Villanova (3-5, 1-1 Big 5) hosts Penn on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET.
The Quakers (5-6, 0-2 Big 5) also know a thing or two about heartbreaks and are entering Wednesday’s contest fresh off of back-to-back close overtime losses to St. Joseph’s and La Salle.
Here are some things to watch ahead of Wednesday night:
The Big 5 race
Can’t take these for granted anymore, especially when this will be a must-win for morale and to stay in the hunt for another Big 5 crown.
Villanova has dominated the city rivalry, winning seven of the last eight Big 5 titles, including each of the last two in 2019-20 and 2021-22 (no Big 5 during 2020-21 due to the COVID-19 pandemic).
There was a glitch in the matrix during the 2018-19 season, when Penn went unbeaten in Big 5 play and won the crown.
Villanova needs to win in order for a chance to remain in the race. The Wildcats will need some help from other city teams in order to get a title share though, as Temple remains undefeated.
Big 5 standings:
- Temple (2-0): Remaining games against St. Joe’s (Dec. 6), Penn (Dec. 10)
- Villanova (1-1): Remaining games against Penn (Dec. 7), St. Joe’s (Dec. 17)
- St. Joe’s (1-0): Remaining games against Temple (Dec. 6), Villanova (Dec. 17), La Salle (Jan. 16)
- La Salle (1-2): Remaining games against St. Joe’s (Jan. 16)
- Penn (0-2): Remaining games against Villanova (Dec. 7), Temple (Dec. 10)
Also, fresh off of a win against Oklahoma, this is an opportunity for the ‘Cats to pick up back-to-back wins for the first time all season. While the Temple and Delaware State games have shown not to take any opponents lightly, the Quakers aren’t exactly on the same level of the Sooners.
This upcoming game will also have a couple of things that those two games didn’t, like Mark Armstrong in the starting five and Cam Whitmore minutes. The Wildcats will try to sustain their winning momentum.
Bonus point — Jay Wright will be calling the game. Back at the Pavilion, for a Big 5 game? He couldn’t have drawn it up any better.
Jordan Dingle is the man that moves the needle for the Quakers. He’s picked up from where he’s left off as Penn’s leading man and entered the week as the nation’s third-highest scorer at 23.4 points per game.
He’s coming right off of a 37-point outing against La Salle. Despite all the attention he garners from opposing defenses, Dingle finds a way to score from anywhere on the court and has scored at least 20 points in each of their last eight games.
He’s kept the Quakers afloat, as they’ve had their share of recent injuries. The biggest one to watch is Clark Slajchert, who was questionable entering Saturday’s La Salle game and didn’t play. Slajchert is averaging 17.4 points per game and is another top perimeter-shooting threat, knocking them down at 37.9%.
After Dingle and Slajchert, the Quakers will get scoring help from where ever they can. 6-foot-6 forward Max Martz overcame a recent illness and returned over the weekend. He’s shooting 43.2% from deep and averages 8.9 points per game.
Penn doesn’t have great size. Max Lorca-Lloyd, a 6-foot-9 center, has played limited minutes in recent outings and was out for Saturday’s La Salle game. If he remains sidelined, that leaves 6-foot-9 Nick Spinoso as the only big man 6-foot-7 or taller left in the Quakers’ rotation. Spinoso does a bit of everything, but is mostly there for what he brings to the glass and interior defense, but he’s also a solid playmaker and actually leads the team in assists at 4.1 per game.
Lucas Monroe is another player to keep an eye on. He won’t light up the scoreboard, but he plays a valuable role as a scrappy 6-foot-6 guard that facilitates the offense, plays defense and rebounds well out of the guard slot. He prides himself on doing the dirty work and is a valuable asset in that sense. He recently had 16 rebounds and three blocks against St. Joe’s, and before that, nine boards and five assists.
Penn’s best defense is a good three-point shooting offense
After a disastrous season opener where the Quakers shot 3-of-25 (12.0%) from long range and fell apart against Iona, Penn has started to stabilize itself on both ends of the court, but there’s no doubt, its shooting will be the team’s make-or-break.
Penn plays solid defense in stretches, but not consistently, which has been the team’s detriment. There have been nights where the Quakers shot well from long range or got enough done offensively where it can emerge victorious, but many others where they fell apart defensively, leading to a game-changing run or just falling a few stops short from hanging on.
Against Iona, the Quakers led early and held on tight with the Gaels, before crashing to a complete halt as Iona used a big run to take over the game. In their next game against Missouri, the Quakers were tied up with the Tigers at half and shot 16-of-32 (50.0%) from long range and ended up losing, 92-85.
Penn has shown some improvement on the defensive end, especially during its four-game winning stretch to end the month of November, but as things heated back up in Big 5 play, the Quakers’ defensive inconsistencies reemerged, as St. Joe’s and La Salle snatched the game from them after battling back to push them into overtime.
Penn ranks 280th in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. As a team, it is formidable from long range, shooting 36.2% from deep (91st in Division I).
Villanova hasn’t been perfect so far this season either, especially on the defensive end, so this will be a good opportunity for the Wildcats to iron out some kinks. When Penn is hot, it can give teams a scare. Shut the Quakers down, and they’ll struggle.
The Wildcats have had some defensive lapses in regards to leaving shooters to run rampant on the perimeter, but they’ll get an opportunity to rein in some of those deficiencies. Villanova entered the week allowing opponents to shoot 38.5% from long range, which is good for 321st out of 354 Division I teams. Nowhere to go but up!