The Villanova Wildcats (2-0) are set to travel to the Palestra for a showdown against the Penn Quakers (2-1) in a revamped Big 5 contest on Monday night at 7 pm EST. This season marks the first time Drexel will participate in the Big 5, leading to a shift from the traditional round-robin format to a soccer tournament-style setup.
The New-Look Big 5
With the addition of a sixth team, the Big 5 now somewhat misleadingly comprises six teams, necessitating a new moniker. The teams are divided into two pods, with each team playing the other two teams in their pod at their respective on-campus arenas. The Big 5 Classic, a triple-header event at the Wells Fargo Center scheduled for December 2, will feature all six teams. The first seeds from each pod will compete for the championship, the second-place teams for third place, and the third seeds for fifth place in the Big 5.
This season, Villanova’s pod includes Penn and St. Joe’s. Big 5 play commenced with St. Joe’s securing a 69-61 victory over Penn in the Hawks’ Nest. St. Joe’s gained the lead 10 minutes into the first half and maintained it, with their lead swelling to 19 points in the second half. However, the Quakers mounted a comeback, narrowing the gap to just two points with under four minutes remaining.
Guards on Guards
Penn’s top six scorers are all listed as guards, showcasing a shift towards a more balanced team following the departure of Jordan Dingle, who averaged 23.4 points per game, to St. John’s. The Quakers’ offense, characterized by its free-flowing motion, is spearheaded by senior guard Clark Slajchert, who is averaging 17.3 points per game across the first three games.
While Slajchert leads the team in scoring, freshman Tyler Perkins may be the Quakers’ most versatile player. Despite having only played three NCAA games, Perkins is averaging 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 2.3 steals per game, while leading the team in all these categories except points.
Transfer Portal Magic
Following a challenging season last year, the Wildcats have made a remarkable comeback, largely attributed to their success in the transfer portal. The four players they acquired not only seamlessly integrated into Villanova’s playstyle but also embodied the team’s culture perfectly.
Tyler Burton and T.J. Bamba have been standout performers among the transfer additions. Burton, in his final year of eligibility, has been a relentless force for Villanova. Averaging 12.5 points and 10 rebounds per game in the first two matches, Burton just seems to be in on every rebound or loose ball.
Bamba, with an additional year of eligibility remaining, is currently the team’s second-leading scorer with an average of 14.5 points per game. His presence on the court as a floor general is invaluable, exemplified by his seven assists and no turnovers so far. Additionally, his impressive 67% shooting from the three-point range (6-9) has been a significant boost for the team. One can only hope Bamba stays this hot the entire season.
Bring on the Quakers
Villanova’s season has started on a high note with two relatively comfortable victories over American and Le Moyne, winning by an average margin of 26.5 points. This strong start is a significant turnaround from last year’s struggles, demonstrating that the team is well-rounded, healthy, and capable of both defending and controlling the offense. Based on their first two performances, despite facing relatively weaker opponents, it might be premature to make sweeping judgments. However, considering how they’ve played, even acknowledging the level of competition, I am ready to declare that Villanova basketball is BACK.