For the first time in 999 days, the No. 16 Villanova Wildcats (1-0) and the Temple Owls (0-1) will face off in the latest edition of their Big 5 Rivalry.
COVID-related issues have cancelled the last two matchups meaning the most recent time we saw this matchup was February 16, 2020. Villanova outscored Temple by 24 in the second half which led to a 76-56 victory. It contained arguably the most aesthetically pleasing offensive possession in the history of the sport.
How long ago is that in college basketball terms? Saddiq Bey and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl were starters, Caleb Daniels and Eric Dixon were both redshirting, and Kyle Neptune was still a Villanova assistant and didn’t have Fordham on his radar. Maybe you disagree, but that feels like an eternity to me.
The new chapter of this rivalry finally kicks off Friday at 7 p.m. ET on ESPNU, with the Wildcats traveling down I-76 to a hostile Liacouras Center on Broad Street, Philadelphia. Ahead of the matchup, let’s highlight three things to watch out for:
A Volatile Opponent
Temple suffered a shocking loss on opening night, falling to Wagner in overtime. The Owls deployed a tight eight-man rotation with all players seeing more than 12 minutes. Within that group – seven are sophomores (some redshirts) and one is a senior. While there is potential NBA level talent on the roster, relying on so much youth can result in some inconsistent and even emotionally-charged play that rides the ups and downs that come with momentum swings.
That’s pretty much what happened against Wagner. The Owls took off in the second half and built a lead of 15 with eight minutes to play – ESPN Analytics gave Temple a 98.7% chance of winning at that point. The lead eventually evaporated as Wagner forced overtime and ultimately prevailed.
Temple had issues with fouls, turnovers, and shooting throughout the night. Four starters had for or more fouls, the team committed 13 turnovers, and shot just 25% from three-point range.
The ‘Cats should expect a streaky Owl team that will be capable of pulling off runs, especially with a strong home crowd behind them. Between the inexperience on the court and ability to capitalize with forcing fouls, turnovers, and bad shots – Coach Neptune needs to be prepared to deliver a powerful counter punch if Temple starts to gain momentum.
If it’s not broke, don’t fix it? Or maybe just tweak it?
Game one of the Kyle Neptune era answered a lot of questions for Nova Nation. While there were some differences from years past (slightly larger rotation, point guard by committee), it’s still Villanova Basketball – focusing on defending, rebounding, and efficient shot selection.
It will be very interesting to see what adjustments the coaching staff make after having a full game’s worth of tape to digest and analyze. We should expect some small tweaks, but it’s difficult to see the trends from the season-opener being any different on Friday.
The trio of Daniels, Dixon, and Slater made up 81% of attempted shots – unless someone else gets hot, the majority of the offense will run through these three until further notice. Jordan Longino could insert himself in this conversation, as he had 12 points in just 21 minutes due to some foul trouble. However, it’s been reported that he’s dealt with some knee soreness the last few weeks, so keep an eye out on his minutes. On paper, Dixon especially has potential to do real damage against this Temple team.
Villanova’s star big man will likely be matched up against Jamille Reynolds, a 6-10, 285-pound sophomore. In his 12 minutes played against Wagner, he picked up four fouls. If Dixon can draw Reynolds into some foul trouble, their next biggest guy is listed at 220 pounds – which could give him a sizeable advantage down low.
The pre-season buzz around the younger Cats proved to be true with Neptune going 10-deep on Monday night. On top of giving decent bench minutes to almost every underclassman, the point guard position was filled by a committee – essentially every Villanova guard brought the ball up at some point. There weren’t any major flaws with the rotation and point guard play on Monday, but we’ll see how things shake out on Friday.
Trial by fire for the young ‘Cats
Liacouras Center is going to be a buzzing, combative environment with a program looking to make up for their opening night blunder against an old rival who they haven’t beat in almost a decade.
For the upperclassmen (Daniels, Slater, Dixon, Arch) and the coaching staff – this won’t be anything new. However, this will be the first time Villanova’s underclassmen (Armstrong, Brizzi, Patterson, Hausen, and Longino to a degree) play significant minutes in this type of atmosphere.
Temple shot 26-of-30 (87%) from the foul line against Wagner, including guard Damian Dunn who went a perfect 18-for-18! When the younger Cats do check into the game, they’ll have to be locked in defensively – as it’d be fair to expect the Owls to target Armstrong, Brizzi, and Hausen on the court.
Have full faith in their ability to respond, especially with Villanova’s senior leadership – but we’ll learn a lot more about this team come Friday night. It’s worth noting that Villanova is the only Big East team playing on the road in this first week of action, and it’s against a rival.
It will be important for the Cats to take the crowd out of the game as much as possible. Temple will likely have 10,000+ fans, so Neptune and Co. will need to manage the game effectively and mitigate any momentum in order for the ‘Cats to secure their second Big 5 win of the season.