On Dec. 5, 2012, a Villanova team that was coming off a 13-19 season — its lone non-NCAA tournament season in the last 13 — lost to Temple at the Pavilion, 76-61. It was the Wildcats' second straight loss to Temple and their fourth in a row in the Big Five.
They'd won their six City Series games before that, and 12 of the previous 13.
Three days later, the Wildcats — who would finish 20-14 – won at Penn, 68-55. They haven't lost a Big Five game since then. And three days after that, they beat St. Joseph's at home, 65-61. They haven't won a Big Five game by fewer than 10 points since then. Which of course sounds impossible.
But in this town, the gap between one program and the rest has never been so pronounced.
On Wednesday night, the fourth-ranked Wildcats (6-0), fresh off winning the championship in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, will play their first Big Five game of this season. It's against Penn (5-3), which won in four overtimes at Monmouth on Saturday. The game will be played at Jake Nevin Field House, as the Pavilion is being renovated. The rest of Villanova's home games will be at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Field House, named for the longtime Villanova trainer, opened in 1932, five years after the Palestra. It was called "The Cat House." The Wildcats haven't played there since Jan. 4, 1986, the year after they won their first national title. They beat Marist that day, 87-71. And yes, it was a long time ago. Speaking of which, they haven't lost to the Quakers since 2002.
This is the first time a Big Five game will be played at the Field House.
These are not the most important games on Villanova's schedule. Yet they remain relevant. Coach Jay Wright, who is from here, makes it that way. He gets what it represents to Philadelphia, if not always on the Main Line.
At this point, these games probably mean more to the other four schools If you can knock off a ranked opponent, it's a pretty big deal. For the Wildcats, it's a different proposition.
They have a lot more at stake, as all favorites do. Logic suggests they'll lose another Big Five game someday. Right now, it's just hard to predict the when part with any real degree of certainty.
That's what happens when you go 129-15 in the last four seasons, with a ring. And the Wildcats are 26-0 in November going back to 2013.
The Wildcats will play at St. Joe's (3-3), which has good young talent but is dealing with injury issues once again, on Saturday. They'll get La Salle (4-3), which has played some quality opponents, on Dec. 10 at the Center. Three days after that, they'll be at Temple (3-1), which just lost by four at La Salle after winning the Charleston (S.C.) Classic.
The last time Villanova played a Big Five game in South Philly was Dec. 10, 2002. It lost to Fran Dunphy's Quakers, 72-58, in Wright's second season.
The Wildcats will play No. 15 Gonzaga (5-1), the defending national runner-up, on Dec. 5 at New York's Madison Square Garden in the Jimmy V Classic. They'll open their Big East schedule Dec. 27 at DePaul. And they've done nothing but dominate that conference in the first four years of its reconfiguration. But first they have to get past four familiar opponents whose seasons would get a huge boost from knocking them off.