If you take away all the hype and rhetoric associated with Saturday’s Big Five game between Villanova and Temple at the Liacouras Center, you’ll find an interesting matchup of two teams trying to locate their rhythm amid the high expectations of their fan bases.
The Wildcats (5-3 overall, 2-0 City Series) do not have a single scholarship senior on their roster while trying to fit in five freshmen, four of whom represent their entire bench.
Meanwhile, the Owls (5-2, 1-0) have a more experienced team than Villanova but are trying to find players to step up in the absence of two injured seniors – Scootie Randall (recovering from off-season knee surgery) and Michael Eric (patella injury).
Still, Temple’s two seniors on the floor, Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, will provide a steady hand in what should be a raucous environment on North Broad Street, where Owls fans are miffed over what they believe was a move by Villanova to keep their team out of the Big East.
The noise and commotion will be a challenge for the Wildcats freshmen. Of the five, only Marcus Kennedy is familiar with the Big Five having grown up in the area and now living in Philadelphia.
Villanova coach Jay Wright likes the fact that his team had its first two Big Five games at home, wins over LaSalle (in overtime) and Penn, so his freshmen could get accustomed to the intensity. Now he knows it’ll get tougher, both Saturday and on Dec. 17 when the Cats go to St. Joseph’s.
“The next two are going to give (the freshmen) a little different taste in some unfriendly environments,” he said. “It’s going to be crazy. But that’s good. I think they’re looking forward to it.”
Point guard Maalik Wayns, a Roman Catholic graduate, also knows what the Big Five means as far as bragging rights when he plays against people like Moore, a former star at Southern.
“It’s no different at all” from playing Missouri, Wayns said after Tuesday night’s game. “That’s a Big Five game. We’re looking forward to that. It’s the next challenge for us.”
Wayns, who led the Wildcats with 14 points and nine assists in their 81-71 loss to Missouri at Madison Square Garden, leads his team with an 18.1-point average and five assists per game. Mouphtaou Yarou checks in at 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds.
But it’s on the defensive end where Villanova will have to establish itself. The Tigers had 23 assists on 28 field goals against the Cats and had just eight turnovers. For the season, the Wildcats are forcing fewer than 12 turnovers but are facing a Temple team that committed 22 in its most recent game, a 77-58 win over Toledo.
The Owls are getting 16.4 points per game from Moore, 14.8 from Khalif Wyatt and 13.4 from Fernandez. Sophomore Aaron Brown has scored 21 and 19 points in his two previous games.
Fernandez went off for 33 points in the last meeting of the two teams in North Philadelphia, a 75-65 Owl victory over the then-No. 3 Wildcats on Dec. 13, 2009. He then scored 20 last year at the Pavilion, where eighth-ranked Villanova posted a 78-74 win behind 21 points from Wayns.
For 'Nova, backup center Maurice Sutton will sit out once against with a dislocated left thumb.
The game begins at 5 p.m. It will be televised by ESPN2 and broadcast by ESPN-AM (950) and WPHT-AM (1210), the radio homes of the Wildcats and the Owls, respectively.