Last night, No. 1 Villanova continued their winning ways, pasting a solid Temple team by 21 points on the back of another virtuoso performance from Josh Hart.
He finished with 26 points, scoring 21 in a 12-minute stretch at the end of the first half and the start of the second half when the Wildcats pulled away. He more than justified his spot atop the NBC Sports Player of the Year Power Rankings.
But that wasn’t the most impressive part of the night.
The city of Philadelphia has one of the coolest series in all of college sports. The Big 5 – Villanova, Temple, La Salle, Penn and Saint Joseph’s – play a round robin every year. The series started way back in 1955 and has seen some of college basketball’s best players and best teams, but it wasn’t until Tuesday night that any play had finished his four-year college career undefeated in Big 5 games.
Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds went 16-0 in Big 5 games, which is as much a testament to their ability to win games as a four-peat atop the Big East would be.
“It’s an honor, definitely humbling,” Hart said. “It’s something 20, 30 maybe 40 years down the road we can look back and say that’s pretty cool.”
These things are cyclical. I get it. Temple, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle all play in “lesser” leagues. None of the three have managed anything close to the kind of sustained success that Villanova has had in recent seasons. Penn, for as much tradition and history as that program has, is an Ivy League program that bottomed out of late. Villanova, on the other hand, is in the midst of one of the most impressive four-year runs any program has had in recent memory.
But that shouldn’t dull what this senior class was able to accomplish in Big 5 play.
Because Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, two longtime NBA players that led St. Joe’s to one of the best seasons a Philly team has ever had in 2004, lost a Big 5 game. Because Lionel Simmons, who is third all-time in NCAA history in points scored, lost a Big 5 game with La Salle. There have been better players that have come through Philly programs.
I don’t know that there’s ever been a better team, but I do know that there’s never been a more successful one.
“This is a pretty special group,” said Temple head coach Fran Dunphy. “Hart and Jenkins have done some unbelievable things as a twosome.”
“It’s hard to argue that they’re not the best grouping [ever in the Big 5].”
Just a third of the way through their senior seasons, this is what Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds have been able to accomplish:
- 107-13 record
- 48-6 record in Big East play
- Three outright Big East titles
- One Big East tournament title
- One national title
- 16-0 record vs. the Big 5
That’s not too bad.