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City Series doubleheader, sort of

St. Joe's will host Temple, Villanova will travel to La Salle.

Villanova's Phil Booth. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Villanova's Phil Booth. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)Read more

JAY WRIGHT is always respectful of the tradition because he grew up revering it and respect is just his way.

"It's a Big 5 game," the Villanova coach will say. "Anything can happen."

And that is mostly true - except when Villanova is playing. During its "Decade of Dominance," Villanova is 33-7 in City Series games, with five sweeps. The Wildcats keep breaking their own record for point differential in the four games. Last season's Wildcats now hold the record after winning by a combined 90 points. This season's Wildcats look a lot like last season's Wildcats.

Over the last 10 seasons, Villanova is 6-4 against Temple, 8-2 against Saint Joseph's, 9-1 against La Salle and 10-0 against Penn.

Two seasons ago, La Salle's eventual Sweet 16 team needed overtime to beat Villanova at Gola Arena. This group of Explorers will get their shot at No. 10 'Nova tonight (8:30) at the Gola.

Two hours prior, Temple will be on Hawk Hill to play St. Joe's at Hagan Arena. So we have a City Series doubleheader of sorts.

The combined capacities of the two "arenas" is a touch above 7,000. Last we looked, the Palestra still held 8,722.

Some enterprising soul might have considered getting the building tonight and having an old-fashioned real doubleheader on 33rd Street. It could have been a nice visual for CBS Sports Network, which is televising both games.

Who knows how these schedules are decided anymore with TV and conference affiliation trumping tradition.

Meanwhile, Villanova is 6-0, with marquee wins over VCU and Michigan. La Salle, Temple and SJU are a combined 11-7, with no marquee wins.

First, it is Temple-St. Joe's, formerly an Atlantic 10 game, now an American-Atlantic 10 game. Let's just call it a Big 5 game.

This is not going to be pretty. Once Temple gets Devin Coleman and Jesse Morgan eligible after the first semester, the Owls have a chance to be very competitive. The Hawks might need a few midseason trades or free-agent acquisitions.

First team to 60 tonight is going to be very dangerous, if anybody actually gets there. The missed shot may be both teams' best offense. And there will be many missed shots.

Temple's defense is dramatically better than last season's, but the Owls are just 212th in offensive efficiency, because they are shooting only 21.1 percent from the arc, 347th in Division I, and 42.7 percent inside the arc, 282nd. The good news is they turn it over on just 17 percent of their possessions, 38th nationally. The Owls' defense is limiting teams to .992 points per possessions, 59th in the country.

Do not expect much scoring from the Hawks. Their shooting would be tested in an empty gym at the moment. SJU is 156th in offensive efficiency at .996 PPP. The Hawks shoot just 24.3 percent from the arc, 333rd, and 44 percent inside the arc, 255th. The free throw shooting (60.2 percent) is not helping the bottom line. They are 3-3, but could also be 5-1 or 1-5.

La Salle's team profile looks a bit like Temple's, with slightly better offense (.984 PPP), good for 189th, and solid defense, .943 PPP, 57th. The Explorers are also having major trouble from the arc, shooting just 25.3 percent, 327th.

It is still early and all numbers are skewed a bit because so few games have been played.

Villanova needed to hit 50 percent of its second-half threes against Delaware to get to 31.5 percent from the arc on the season. But the Wildcats, with their terrific ball penetration and wonderful interior passing, are getting great shots at the rim, shooting a sensational 56.3 percent inside the arc, good for 19th nationally.

The 'Cats are 12th in offensive efficiency (1.093 PPP) and seventh in defensive efficiency (.885), the kinds of numbers that, if they hold up over a season, suggest a very long March run.

Tonight, it is the first Wednesday of December, a sort of City Series doubleheader 7 miles apart, one game where no result would surprise in a game where points will be at a premium, another where the home team will be trying to upset No. 10 in what is certain to be a wild atmosphere. It is a Big 5 night circa 2014. Not the same as it once was, surely, or might still be at the same venue, but the games are still played with the same passion. The players may not know the history, but all of them absolutely know the games still matter.

Big 5 tonight

Temple (4-2) at Saint Joseph's (3-3)

When: 6:30

Where: Hagan Arena

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: WPHT (1210-AM), WIP (610-AM)

Penn (0-5) at Navy (2-5)

When: 7 o'clock

Where: Alumni Hall, Annapolis, Md.

Radio: WXPN (88.5-FM)

Villanova (6-0) at La Salle (4-2)

When: 8:30

Where: Tom Gola Arena

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: WIP (610-AM);