Temple doesn’t need any extra motivation when playing Villanova in a Big Five basketball game, but some was provided Monday when the Wildcats moved to No. 1 in the Associated Press poll.
Now Villanova (10-0) will play its first game as this season’s top team, visiting Temple (6-2) at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
Temple has been here before
At least Temple is familiar with the drill. This will be the third consecutive year the Owls are playing a top-ranked Villanova team.
In 2016, when the Owls last went to the NCAA tournament and Villanova won it, the Wildcats triumphed, 83-67, at the Liacouras Center on Feb. 17. Last season, the Owls lost a 78-57 decision at the Pavilion on Dec. 13.
Now a year later, Temple gets another crack at the Wildcats.
“It’s a great opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country, and we look forward to it,” Temple junior center Ernest Aflakpui said before Monday’s practice.
Villanova dominant in Big Five
Temple will also face the challenge of stopping Villanova’s recent Big Five dominance. The Wildcats are 3-0 this season in the Big Five and have won 21 in a row. Their last Big Five loss came at home to Temple, 76-61 on Dec. 5, 2012.
In last year’s win, Josh Hart, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, had a game-high 25 points. Point guard Jalen Brunson, this season’s preseason Big East player of the year, was highly efficient with 13 points, taking just six shots. He also had six assists and just one turnover. This season, he is averaging 17.2 points and 4.8 assists.
“Brunson is as smart and as tough a guard as there is out there,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said.
Redshirt junior forward Mikal Bridges, who was listed as the No. 10 overall pick in SI.com’s most recent NBA mock draft, has become one of the top two-way players in college basketball.
“Not only is he defending like crazy, and making good decisions with the basketball, but he is also shooing it very well at a high, high rate,” Dunphy said.
Bridges, averaging a team-high 18.1 points, is shooting 26 for 54 from three-point range (48.1 percent).
Temple is 1-1 in the Big Five, losing at La Salle, 87-83 and winning Saturday against visiting St. Joseph’s, 81-78. Villanova is coming off Sunday’s 77-68 win over visiting La Salle.
The Owls are expecting a sellout, and the players look to feed off the crowd.
“Being at home, with the No. 1 team coming in, is a good opportunity to get us juiced up and get a win,” said 6-8 Temple sophomore Quinton Rose, who along with Shizz Alston averages a team-best 17.3 points. “The crowd plays a big role and keeps us energized.”