I am a fan of Big 5 basketball. Subconsciously, I approach every matchup looking for streamers to rain from heavens after the first made basket for each team. For young readers unfamiliar with the tradition, once upon a time, during Big 5 games after each team’s first made basket, fans would throw streamers of their team’s colors onto the playing surface.
The NCAA banned this traditional practice in 1985. Ostensibly, because they thought it was dangerous. I actually think they banned it because they couldn’t figure out a way to monetize it.
The NCAA can always be counted on to do some nut shit…
For 67 years, Philadelphia’s Big 5 — LaSalle, Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova — have waged a unique Philly college basketball round robin. Nowhere else in America will you find five Division 1 basketball programs in on metropolitan area competing so intensely for a “made up” title. The Big 5 is not a league or conference. Winning the Big 5 doesn’t lead to an NCAA appearance… It doesn’t improve your national rankings.
For nearly 7 decades, the reward has been the winners ability to talk shit to the losers for the next 12 months… In other words, it meant a lot!
Like so many things from my childhood era, the Big 5 is different these days. They don’t play all the games at the Palestra on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The programs have abandoned college basketball’s cathedral in favor of campus arenas… Better chance to win at home.
On Tuesday, yet another interesting and dare I say it… BIG… Big 5 matchup will take place at the Liacouras on North Broad Street.
Why? Why, one might ask would you categorize this as a BIG game? After all, both programs are several years removed from national prominence.
The game is BIG because somethings gotta give… To varying degrees, Aaron McKie and Billy Lange are lurching toward the point where they have to shit or get off the toilet.
McKie is now in his 4th season after taking the reigns from one of his mentors, Fran Dunphy. His record, 41-44 (.482) overall and 20-29 (.408) in the AAC, has been lackluster by Temple standards. Two Temple coaches, Harry Litwack and John Chaney, are in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Temple currently sits 5th in all-time victories trailing only certified blue bloods Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke. Viewed from a historical perspective, McKie is off to a rather inauspicious beginning.
Nonetheless, there has been steady improvement in the Owl program under McKie. He has finished 10th, t-8th and 4th the past three seasons… Gotta keep moving up… He has some talented young players in the fold. The Owls have also demonstrated a willingness to fight for some of the top talent in the Greater Philadelphia region. Hysier Miller is from South Philly. Zach Hicks is from Camden. Jalil White and Taj Thweatt played for Wildwood Catholic. Khalif Battle is a Trenton native. McKie and his staff are beating the local bushes. West Catholic’s Zion Stanford joins the fold next season.
Lange is also in his 4th season leading the Hawks. He succeeded Phil Martelli who coached at St. Joseph’s for 24 seasons. Lange’s record, 25-64 (.284) overall and 10-38 (.208) in the A10 has been atrocious. Hawk faithful had become accustomed to, more or less, regular post-season appearances. Martelli led Saint Joseph’s to seven NCAA Tournaments and 6 NIT (13 total post-season) appearances in 24 seasons as head coach.
Up to this point, Lange has made very zero progress toward returning the Hawks to contention for post-season tournament appearances. St. Joseph’s has finished t-13th, 13th and t-12th past three seasons. Like McKie, Lange has had some success in local recruiting. Neumman-Goretti’s Jordan Hall has moved onto the NBA after just 2 seasons on Hawk Hill. Roman Catholic alum Lynn Greer III has taken over the point guard position. Camden High graduate Rasheer Fleming is one of the more intriguing freshman in the mid-Atlantic region. Substitute guard, Quin Berger played scholastically at Westtown.
Lange also successfully recruited Philadelphia natives, Rahmir Moore, Chereef Knox and Dahmir Bishop each of whom has transferred to other programs. Next year, three more highly regarded Philly prospects are scheduled to arrive at 54th and City Ave. as Shawn Simmons, Anthony Finkley and Xzayvier Brown begin their collegiate careers.
Both teams need a win in the worst way.
Tuesday’s contest is a rubber match for Lange and McKie. In their first meeting on December 10, 2019 at the Liacouras Center, McKie’s Owls literally beat the shit down the legs of the Hawks by 47 points (108-61). It was one of the most lopsided Big 5 games I have ever witnessed over the past 40 years.
Hard dunk after strong dunk after powerful dunk… As Buddy Ryan would say, The Hawks “lifted their skirts” early…
With Covid-19 wreaking havoc on schedules, they Owls and the Hawks would not play each other in 2020.
Lange would exact revenge on December 11. 2021 in the cozy confines of Hagan Arena. Jordan Hall, 26 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals put on a magnificent performance as the Hawks smacked the shit out of the Owls by a final score of 68-49.
The McKie-Lange scorecard stands at 1-1.
So what should we expect on Tuesday? St. Joseph’s is gonna rely heavily on Erik Reynolds, II to generate some offense. I would anticipate Temple’s defensive stopper, Jalil White, to be nose to nose with Reynolds for much of the evening. White is a strong, long, athletic wing with exceptional lateral quickness. For this years Temple squad, he basically has one job… Stop the best muthafucka on the other team from scoring. White does it rather well.
Lynn Greer III has provided a steady hand at the point guard spot for the Hawks. He is a big, strong point guard with solid ball-handling and passing skills. In this, his first real season of collegiate competition he has struggled mightily with his shooting. He is shooting just 36.4 from the floor and a paltry 13.3% from behind the 3-point line. He also needs to cut down on the turnovers. Greer had 6 last game and is averaging over 4 per contest. He will square off against another Catholic League point guard. Hysier Miller is a throwback pass-first point guard for the Owls. Still finding his way, Miller has a stranglehold on the point guard spot for the Owls. While scoring over 7 ppg, he is dishing 4.8 apg while limiting his turnovers to just 2.1 per game.
Temple’s dynamic scoring duo of Battle and Damian Dunn contribute anywhere from 35 to 45 points almost every game. They will be a tough matchup for Cam Brown and Reynolds on the defensive end of the floor. Kacper Klaczek and Rasheer Fleming will have to chase Temple marksman Zach Hicks off screens all night. Hicks has shown hat he is capable of hitting 3’s in bunches.
Transfer center Jamile Reynolds has been very good at times for the Owls. He has provided them with a legitimate low-post offensive presence as well as solid rebounding. St. Joseph’s center Ejike Obinna, on the other hand, has struggled and his production is down considerably across the board when compared to last that of last season.
So who wins?
Well… I don’t foresee another blowout either way. St. Joseph’s should be motivated coming off a dreadful 17 point loss in a buy game to visiting Fairleigh Dickinson. Temple bounced back from an opening night loss to Wagner in a buy game to knock off Villanova. Can the Hawks duplicate such a feat? Naaaaah… Temple’s will try mightily to limit Reynolds’ offensive production. I just don’t think the Hawks have enough firepower to win at Liacouras this year.
I like Temple by 8.