Rest of Big 5 looking up to Villanova men’s basketball

The Wildcats extended their record Big 5 winning streak to 22 after Wednesday’s 87-67 win against Temple at the Liacouras Center.

Villanova junior guard Jalen Brunson and redshirt-freshman forward Omari Spellman defend senior forward Obi Enechionyia as he makes a pass during the Owls' 87-67 loss to Villanova on Wednesday at the Liacouras Center. | HOJUN YU / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Villanova hit an “avalanche” of shots on Dec. 2 against St. Joseph’s, Phil Martelli said. The Hawks’ coach watched as the Wildcats hit a school-record 19 3-pointers and beat St. Joseph’s by 41 on Dec. 2.

“You know what you do?” Martelli said after his team’s 81-78 loss to Temple on Saturday. “You shake their hands and say, ‘Congratulations. Well done.’ And move on.”

Since Dec. 5, 2012, when Villanova last lost to a Big 5 team, the rest of Philadelphia schools have been doing exactly that.

The Wildcats (11-0, 4-0 Big 5), who are ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll, extended their Big 5 winning streak to 22 games on Wednesday night after their 87-67 win against Temple (6-3, 1-2 Big 5) at a sold-out Liacouras Center. Villanova won its fifth game in a row against Temple, which is the last Big 5 team to beat the Wildcats.

Every team has had its runs of Big 5 success since the city series’ creation in 1954, Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. Penn won four straight Big 5 titles from 1970-74. St. Joseph’s won three of four city championships from 1964-68. Temple won titles three out of four years from 2010-13.

Villanova’s run is unprecedented, however, and there’s no sign that it’ll stop anytime soon. Villanova is simply better than the other schools right now.

The Wildcats’ 22 straight wins in the Big 5 is the longest streak in the history of the tradition. Only two of the Wildcats’ 22 wins, the second and Sunday’s victory against La Salle, have been decided by single digits. Villanova has won games by an average of 20.5 points during its winning streak.

This season, Villanova’s four Big 5 opponents led against the Wildcats for only 10 minutes, 12 seconds. La Salle had the highest number by far at 7:30. Temple never led.

The reason for the Wildcats’ success is simple, Villanova coach Jay Wright said. The team has had a run of talented players who remain in the program for four years instead of leaving for the NBA Draft as one-and-done athletes.

One of those players is Los Angeles Lakers rookie guard Josh Hart, a 2017 First-Team All-American and last season’s Big East Conference Player of the Year who played all four of his college seasons.

Ryan Arcidiacono is another former Wildcat who played all four of his college seasons and now plays for the Chicago Bulls’ minor-league affiliate. He graduated in 2016 as the first player in program history to score more than 1,500 points and dish more than 500 assists and played a game for the Bulls this season.

Wright puts junior guard Jalen Brunson and redshirt-freshman forward Omari Spellman in that category of players who “want to be in college.” Brunson scored a career-high 31 points on 11-of-16 shooting. Spellman dropped a career-high 27 points on 11-of-14 shooting from the field.

They had their career performances on a night when redshirt-junior swingman Mikal Bridges, who is widely touted as a lottery pick in the upcoming NBA Draft and is part of the reason 22 scouts attended Wednesday’s game, had a season-low seven points.

Villanova goes on “killer runs,” Dunphy said. After Temple made its first field goal in the first half, Villanova went on a 15-1 run to take a 20-point lead.

“You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it,” Dunphy said.

Bridges and Brunson are expected to declare for the NBA Draft in the spring, but even so, Villanova will have talent next season. Redshirt-junior guard Phil Booth, who only scored two points while playing through an illness Wednesday, entered the game with a five-game, double-figure scoring streak. Redshirt-sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo has been a valuable sixth man for the Wildcats and dropped 12 points in 30 minutes against Temple.

The Wildcats will also add two top-60 recruits next season.

“We have had outstanding players over our run, and I hope to God they keep coming,” Wright said.

Why wouldn’t they? The pedigree and foundation already exist. The Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament in 12 of the past 13 seasons, including their 2015-16 Division I championship.

With their undefeated start and No. 1 ranking this year, they could be headed for another title run. This year’s Big 5 title, the Wildcats’ fifth straight, is another bullet point on their resume and should continue to be annually for the foreseeable future.

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