Being a Philadelphia guy, Aaron McKie has been around the Big 5 all of his life. But he relishes the chance to do something extra special in the City Series as Temple’s head coach on Sunday.
The Owls (13-11, 2-1 Big 5) take on No. 15 Villanova (18-6, 3-0) before a sellout crowd at Liacouras Center needing a win to tie the Wildcats for the city title. And McKie, who won at least a share of the Big 5 crown in his three seasons as a player in the early 1990s, is excited about the opportunity.
“It’s great for bragging rights,” the 1992-93 Big 5 player of the year said Friday. “It’s great for the history of our Temple program. It’s great for me to be a fan No. 1, to be a player in the Big 5 No. 2, and now to be a head coach in the Big 5 and to have a share of it, although I would like to be playing for being a champion of it. That’s not the case here, but it’s always great.”
The Owls will be looking for their first City Series championship since 2012-13. The Wildcats won the title the following season and carried on for a total of five consecutive years as champions before seeing their record 25-game winning streak in Big 5 play ended last season by Penn.
For Temple senior Quinton Rose, it’s a title he wants before his collegiate playing days are over.
“It’s really meaningful,” said Rose, the team’s leading scorer with a 16.2-point average. “I haven’t gotten one since I’ve been here and in my time I’ve learned how important that is to the city. So that would be great, to get Coach McKie one in his first season and get myself one in my last.”
Villanova’s three Big 5 victories came during a seven-day period in early December, defeating La Salle and Penn at home and overcoming a feisty effort by St. Joseph’s on Hawk Hill.
Wildcats coach Jay Wright makes it a habit of educating his players on Big 5 games and how much focus and intensity you have to bring to the floor to win. He said they got the message from the first three contests.
“We talk to them about basketball history all the time and a big part of Villanova history is Big 5 history and living here in the city," Wright said. "We want them to respect Philadelphia basketball and learn about it. So I enjoy it. I enjoy talking about it. I don’t know how much they enjoy listening to it, but I talk to them about it a lot.”
The Cats broke a three-game losing streak Wednesday night with a 72-71 win over Marquette. Wright said Rose, who scored a then-career high 27 points against ‘Nova two years ago, belongs in a group with the best Big East senior guards his team has played like Marquette’s Markus Howard and Butler’s Kamar Baldwin.
“Those guys get down toward the end of their career and they know this is it,” he said. “They’re smart enough and they’re not intimidated by any situation because they’ve been in all of them. I never forget what Rose did to us [two years ago]. He can do that as a senior.”
Likewise, McKie knows his team will be challenged by the Cats’ 1-2 scoring punch of Saddiq Bey (15.7 points per game) and Collin Gillespie (15.6).
“Bey is one, and Gillespie is another guy,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of weapons and when you watch them, a number of different guys on their team can hurt you. So we’ve got to be aware of that. All five guys on the floor, everybody has a key matchup.”
The Wildcats already have clinched at least a share of their 27th City Series title. An Owls win would give them their 28th championship, most of any Big 5 school, and make McKie the first Temple coach to win a city crown in his first season.