It’s “Rivalry Week” in college basketball, and tonight we will see the two biggest rivals in the nation do battle once again when Duke travels to take on North Carolina. Threw you for a loop there, didn’t I? It would be easy to talk about the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels, but I’m a Philly boy, so we’re going to look at another big time rivalry that is adding a new chapter tonight, when #1 Villanova travels to North Broad Street to take on the Temple Owls.
Any Big 5 game is must-see, but this one has tons of other implications this year. Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history, and they come into this game having won five straight, and 14 of their last 15. The Wildcats are a consensus 1-seed in all bracket projections, and they are the favorite to win the Big East.
It has been an up and down season for the Owls. They started off 4-5, but have really turned it up in conference play. They are 10-3 in the American, with wins over SMU, Connecticut (twice) and Cincinnati (twice). They also come into this match-up riding a five-game winning streak, and playing their best basketball of the year.
These teams have split their last six meetings, with Villanova having won the last two, including a dominant 85-62 triumph last season at The Pavilion. On paper, Villanova is the better team, but they have struggled as of late, and Temple has always had a knack for knocking off great teams on their home floor. You can see this game at 7:00 pm on ESPN2, and here is what to look for while watching.
Key for Villanova: Dominate the Paint
The Wildcats have one of the best low post presences in the nation in Daniel Ochefu. The 6-11 senior can dominate any game, and Temple does not have a great interior defense. Jaylen Bond is their main big man, and he is just 6-8. Nova shoots over 56 percent from inside the 3-point arc, but a lot of times they become too dependent on 3-point shooting, despite shooting 32.5 percent from deep, 259th in the country according to KenPom. Villanova needs to take advantage of having Ochefu and Darryl Reynolds on the inside. If they do that, they should win.
Key for Temple: Defensive Rebounding
Even though Villanova doesn’t shoot a good percentage from 3-point range, they can still bury you from deep. They take a lot of threes, and make over 30 percent of them. The key for Temple is going to be rebounding the shots that Nova misses. According to KenPom, Temple is the 13th best team in the country at defending the three, but they can struggle on the boards at times. Both teams play a very slow pace, so possessions will be at a minimum. Temple can’t afford to give Nova extra opportunities if they’re going to pull off the upset.
Player to Watch for Villanova: G Josh Hart
Josh Hart is one of the best guards in the country, and he is a leading candidate for Big East Player of the Year. The biggest impact that Hart has is on the glass. He is without question the best rebounding guard in the nation, averaging 7.5 rebounds a game. Villanova plays a small lineup, so they need a guard to help on the glass, and Hart is that guy. I expect Hart to live in the paint in this one. I predict a double-double for him, as Temple should have trouble keeping him away from the basket.
Player to Watch for Temple: G Quenton DeCosey
The 6-5 senior has developed into a team leader for this Owls team, and he is on an absolute tear as of late. During Temple’s five game winning streak, DeCosey has averaged just over 20 points a game, while shooting 13-30 from 3-point range and going 34-41 from the free throw line. He is hitting from the outside and getting to the rim and drawing fouls. He had a huge 3-point play on an acrobatic layup late in the game against UConn, helping the Owls finish off an impressive come-from-behind victory. If DeCosey has another big game, Temple will have a chance to get the win.
This is going to be a fun game, and I’m disappointed that I’m going to be missing most of it because of work (don’t worry, I’m recording it). I fully expect this to be a close game no matter what. Villanova hasn’t been playing their best, while Temple hasn’t looked better all season. The crowd at the Liacouras Center will be rocking, and they will fuel Temple to a great performance. As a Temple fan, of course I think and hope that they can get the win, but I think Villanova will be able to make enough plays down the stretch to come out on top and defend their #1 ranking. But I will not be shocked if Temple pulls off the upset. A win tonight would be the cherry on top of Temple’s at-large tournament resume. Without a win here, they might need to win the American to make the tourney. Temple will play inspired, but I think they will ultimately come up short. Here’s to hoping they prove me wrong!