The Villanova Wildcats return to action on Wednesday night at Finneran Pavilion against Big 5 rival Temple. The ‘Cats have jumped up one spot to No. 22 in the AP Poll, while Temple dropped its AAC opener and enters with a record of 7-5.
Villanova snapped a two-game losing streak by defeating Xavier last week, while Temple defeated Delaware State to get back in the win column. Have your coffee ready, as tipoff is set for 9 p.m. If you can’t make it to the Finn, the game will be on Fox Sports 1.
A little over three weeks ago, the Owls got devastating news that leading scorer Khalif Battle, who had been averaging more than 20 points per game, would miss the remainder of the season with a foot injury. With the heartbeat of the Owls missing from the lineup, the team has tried its best to weather the storm.
In the five games since Battle’s injury, Temple has gone 3-2 with wins over Penn, Vanderbilt, and Delaware State. Both losses were blowout defeats at Saint Joseph’s and home against UCF. Freshman guard, Damian Dunn, has stepped up in Battle’s absence and has carried the Owls. In the five games without Battle, Dunn has scored in double figures each game, including a career-high 27 in the win against Penn.
Another freshman guard, Jeremiah Williams, has also been a contributor for the young Owls. Williams’ minutes have increased and so has his production with Battle out. Tai Strickland is another name to watch for Temple. If he gets hot, the ‘Cats could be in trouble. If Villanova can shut him down, he will not be much of a factor for the Temple offense.
Keep an eye on Freshman forward, Zach Hicks. He had a breakout game against Delaware State in the Owls’ last game. Hicks went for 35 points with 30 of those points coming in the form of three-pointers. Before the game against the Hornets, Hicks had only scored 22 total points on the season. It would not shock me if head coach, Aaron McKie, gave him more minutes than usual against Villanova.
Overall, Temple does not rank well in almost every statistical category, according to ESPN. They are 277th in the country in points per game (67.6), compared to Villanova at 173rd. Field Goal percentage is even worse for the Owls ranking 325th in the country with a percentage at .402. If the ‘Cats can force Temple to take tough shots, they will put themselves in a solid position to pick-up a victory. The Owls are also one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the country. They average 21.1 attempts per game and only make six of those. This is good for 332 out of the 358 D1 teams.
The contest between the ‘Cats and Owls last year was canceled due to COVID-19. In the 2019-20 season, the Wildcats dismantled Temple on Broad Street by 20, 76-56. Collin Gillespie put on a show, scoring 29 points on 11-of-19 shooting. Jermaine Samuels also added 13 in the victory.
Villanova fans would be thrilled if Samuels scored 13 in this game, let alone over 10. Samuels is struggling this season, especially recently. After putting up strong numbers in November, the senior forward has only scored 13 once in his last eight games.
Villanova’s last loss to Temple came in December of 2012, the last time they faced the Owls unranked. The Wildcats have also won the last seven meetings.
The Big 5
With a win against Temple, Villanova would sweep their Big 5 Opponents with victories against Penn, La Salle, Saint Joseph’s and the Owls. The only relatively close game was against Penn, and that was still a 15 point victory for the Wildcats.
Temple is currently 2-1 against Big 5 opponents with wins against La Salle and Penn. The victories were by a combined 25 points. However, the Owls played a clunker against St. Joe’s and got demolished, 68-49.
Additionally, the Penn Quakers went winless against Big 5 opponents. St. Joe’s is currently 2-1 with a pair of games remaining against La Salle. The Explorers are currently 1-2 in Big 5 play.
‘Cats Back in the Win Column
Villanova picked up a crucial win before the Christmas holiday with a victory against Xavier. The ‘Cats came into the game on a two game losing streak with back-to-back blowout losses to Baylor and Creighton. After trailing at halftime, ‘Nova was able to outscore Xavier by 21 in the second half to pick up the win. In the game, coach Jay Wright made it a priority to score more in the paint. It worked as Eric Dixon put up a season high 15 points in the win. If outside shots are not falling for Villanova early in the game, look for the ‘Cats to go back to scoring in the paint.
While it took ‘Nova some time to get going, before ultimately closing strong to defeat Xavier, the ‘Cats may get to put together a complete 40-minute performance against their Big 5 rivals in their final non-conference game before resuming the gauntlet that is Big East play.