Philly’s Big 5 basketball tournament has been played in one form or another since 1955, with annual bragging rights dished out more or less evenly amongst the teams. But for the past two seasons, Villanova has been dominating the round-robin tourney in a way rarely seen in the past.
Last year, ‘Nova beat LaSalle, St. Joe’s, Penn and Temple by an average margin of 22 points. This year, more of the same, with only the Ivy League Quakers left to play Saturday night at the sold-out Palestra.
So, who better to call for comment than former coach Rollie Massimino.
“The competitive spirit has always been there, and will be there,” said Massimino, who led the Wildcats to a 1985 NCAA national championship. “I think this is one of the years Villanova is an experienced team. They are getting the ball inside, and Jay is doing a great coaching job.”
Under current coach Jay Wright, Villanova has 45 wins in its last 50 regular season games, and ranks 5th in the nation.
Longtime Philadelphia Daily News sports reporter Mike Kern says a lot of the team’s success has to do with recruitment, buoyed by the spotlight that comes with playing in the Big East conference. As much as ‘Nova is up right now compared to the other Big 5 schools, though, he says the tide can turn awfully quickly.
“People forget that three years ago, Villanova went through a 13-19 season, which tied a Villanova record for most losses in a season. So it wasn’t that long ago that they were struggling,” said Kern.
Even Massimino isn’t quite ready to look past the game against Penn.
“Sometimes the underdog really plays great, and that’s what’s so great about the Big 5,” said Massimino.