Most of what I saw at the Palestra last night was fairly predictable.

The Wildcats played good defense, owned the offensive glass, made shots and won the game easily. Nothing surprising there.

But the one thing I did not expect to see was a crowd more than 3,000 fans short of capacity.

The attendance listed in the box score was 5,328, and there were large swaths of empty bleachers in the 200 level behind both baskets. Even if there wasn't much chance of an upset, since when does a Big 5 matchup on 33rd Street involving Villanova not draw a full house?

It was a topic of some discussion after the game.

Jay Wright was asked whether he was surprised at the low attendance, not only overall but by his school's fans specifically.

It was pointed out that the 'Nova student section, which usually takes up a couple sections in the east end seats for Big 5 games, was rather small last night.

"It's just different" for away games, Wright said. "If they get the tickets [through the student lottery], they'll come. If they have to go get the tickets [elsewhere], they won't come."

Wright applied a similar line of reasoning to the alumni and other paying season ticket holders.

"If it's in our season ticket package, they're here," he said. "But if they have to go somewhere else and buy them, they don't do it. I don't know."

You might recall that the same thing happened when Villanova played LSU last season at the Wachovia Center. Because the game was part of the Big East/SEC Invitational, it was not part of the season ticket package, so only 9,212 people showed up.

Glen Miller was asked to compare last night to the 'Nova-Penn game two years ago, when a full and roaring house watched the Wildcats win a 99-89 shootout.

"We had a much more veteran team, a stronger team, two years ago," the Penn coach said. "I don't know what the other reasons are but I can't concentrate and focus on that. It's still a Big 5 game and our kids were excited to play it."

Miller added that there might be factors greater than just his team's record involved.

"I think you've seen a lot of that across the country - I don't know if it's the economy or what, but I've seen a lot of arenas that haven't exactly been full," he said.

There is some truth to that answer, as a number of the early-season tournaments over the last two weeks played out in front of mostly empty arenas. And it is not either coach's job to work at the box office selling tickets.

But this was not a Thanksgiving weekend road trip to a neutral floor at a theme park resort. This was a Big 5 game at the City Series' spiritual home between two teams with established fan bases.

The writer who asked the above question of Miller, Andrew Todres of the Daily Pennsylvanian, sat next to me on press row last night. In his column this morning, Todres wondered whether "the Big 5 as we know it is running out of steam."

I disagree with that notion rather strongly. Three City Series teams got into the NCAA Tournament last year, and there is every reason to think their Big 5 wins made a difference in their RPI and strength of schedule ratings.

In terms of fan interest, Temple and St. Joe's filled the Liacouras Center and the Palestra for two outstanding games that both went down to the final seconds, then settled the score in front of a full house at Boardwalk Hall in the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship game.

The LSU game aside, Villanova packed the Wachovia Center as it always does. La Salle's crowds grew throughout the season, and on some February nights Penn's crowds at the Palestra were larger than the rest of the Ivy League combined.

This year, all five teams bring back many of their most important players, and even Drexel got in the national TV spotlight with the 10 a.m. game against Penn.

So I don't think interest in the Big 5 as a whole has decreased. I do think, however, that interest in Penn basketball specifically is declining.

I spent some time walking around the campus before yesterday's game and did not see any flyers or posters promoting the game. I didn't go in any of the dorms or dining halls, but it seemed like you could cover a lot of ground on Locust Walk without knowing that there was a fairly big event that night.

I don't know whose fault that is. It may be a matter of marketing, or it may be that the student body doesn't care as much as it used to.

The Penn alumni I've heard from think the demographics of the student body has changed in recent years, and that may be. All I know is that it wasn't that long ago that Penn's student section was just as big as the others in the city, even if it often showed up after tipoff.

If I'd known last night's game had that many seats available, I would have definitely made mention of it on here. I assumed - as did a lot of other people - that the game would be sold out.

So you tell me: why do you think there wasn't a full house last night?