Kris Jenkins

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Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins become first Big 5 players to go undefeated in career

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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.”

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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.

Why?

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.

New Year’s Resolutions: Villanova Wildcats

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source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.

MORE: The rest of our New Year’s Resolutions | Midseason catchups

VILLANOVA PROMISES TO: Get improved 3-point shooting from Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono

  • It will happen because: The Wildcats are actually shooting slightly better than they did during the 2013-14 campaign, where they sunk better than 35 percent of their threes. Despite the consistent numbers as a team, starting guard Darrun Hilliard and Ryan Arcidiacono have seen their percentages from deep dip from a season ago. Hilliard is down from 41 percent to 31 while Arcidiacono has nosedived to 21 percent. However, Hilliard has already shown improvement recently, knocking down 11-of-24 from beyond the arc over the last five games. On Friday, before Villanova’s rivalry game with Syracuse, Jay Wright told reporters after practice, Arcidiacono looks healthy this week, which could reverse the slide in his numbers.
  • But it might not because: Villanova might not need similar numbers from Hilliard and Arcidiacono. Villanova is an unselfish team, seeing five different players leading the team in scoring through 10 games. Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart are both averaging double figures in their second seasons in the program with both shooting the ball better from deep. Ennis is up to 46 percent and Hart is up to a 40 percent clip. Add in reserve forward Kris Jenkins and the Wildcats have ample perimeter shooting options. Yes, Arcidiacono’s scoring average has decreased each year, but he’s continuing to focus on his role, taking care of the ball with an assist-to-turnover that was 3.5-to-1 before the Temple game. He also had nine assists and zero turnovers against VCU’s Havoc defense.

VILLANOVA ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Bow out early in postseason play

  • It will happen because: Villanova’s 29 wins were overshadowed by a quarterfinal upset loss to Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament followed by a loss to UConn, the eventual national champion, in the Round of 32 of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. Despite the cast of returnees, the early exits caused preseason skepticism for the Wildcats. But this team is one year older, and should learn from past shortcomings. Villanova is incredibly balanced offensively and are experienced with three juniors and two seniors in the starting five. The Wildcats have had/will have their battles — not turning the ball over against VCU, a thriller against Michigan and Saturday’s rivalry game against Syracuse. The Wildcats will also get tested from a better Big East, going up against a tough defensive team in Butler, a talented Georgetown team and a St. John’s team that runs a smaller lineup. Xavier, Providence and Seton Hall also figure to be in the conversation come Selection Sunday.
  • But it might not because: While Villanova is tough to prepare for given its balance, last year saw the Wildcats end up on the wrong end of mismatches. In two blowout losses to Creighton, the Wildcats allowed the Bluejays to shoot 60 percent (30-of-50) from three. Another area of concern for the Villanova is its frontline. Jayvaughn Pinkston can provide a scoring punch as a mismatch for opposing forwards and Jenkins has seen a spike in production, but outside of 6-foot-11 Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats roster lacks another true big man.

Freshmen, improved second-half defense stand out for No. 10 Villanova

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No. 10 Villanova led La Salle 38-34 at the half, and defensively the Wildcats couldn’t have played much worse than they did. The Explorers, even with the guard tandem of Tyreek Duren and Tyrone Garland combining to score just five points on 2-for-11 shooting, shot 46.4% from the field with forward Jerrell Wright burning Villanova for 18 points. Clearly, something needed to change if the Wildcats were to gain separation and build on the program’s best start since the 2005-06 season.

Change did occur for Villanova, as Wright was limited to two points in the second half and as a team La Salle shot just 28.6% from the field. The end result: a 73-52 win, with the Wildcats avenging last season’s overtime loss at Tom Gola Arena. Jay Wright’s team just keeps rolling along, with multiple contributors on the offensive end and a defense that through ten games has been highly active.

Villanova limited La Salle to an offensive efficiency of 78.1 on the afternoon, and entering Sunday the Wildcats ranked second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency according to kenpom.com. With the number of perimeter options at Wright’s disposal, Villanova has the pieces needed to be a nuisance on that end of the floor and that’s been the case thus far. And when combining that with an efficient offensive effort, as Villanova assisted on 20 of their 25 made field goals and shot 49%, the Wildcats are a tough team to beat.

Also of note on Sunday, and throughout the season, has been the play of the bench. Starter Darrun Hilliard led the way with 21 points, but on an afternoon that saw James Bell (three points) and JayVaughn Pinkston (seven) limited to ten the 24 combined points from freshmen Josh Hart (13) and Kris Jenkins (11) were big. With those two, who are averaging 8.0 and 4.2 points per game respectively, combining with Rice transfer Dylan Ennis (10.6 ppg) the Wildcats have the bench production needed to account for Pinkston’s move into the starting lineup. Pinkston, who started just 13 of the Wildcats’ 34 games a season ago, averaged 13.3 points per game in that sixth man role.

La Salle’s had its troubles, most notably the struggles endured by Duren and Garland on the perimeter, and the loss of Ramon Galloway isn’t one you simply gloss over either. But the Explorers’ difficulties shouldn’t take away from what Villanova was able to do on Sunday. And there’s still room for growth as well, which is a positive sign for the Wildcats with the start of Big East play just over two weeks away.

Top-100 prospect Kris Jenkins commits to Jay Wright and Villanova

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Top-100 prospect Kris Jenkins of Gonzaga College High School (D.C.) has committed to Villanova, he announced on the In and Out of Sports radio show Sunday afternoon.

Jenkins, a 6-5, 250-pound native of Washington, D.C., is an undersized big man who has the bulk down low to rebound at a high level, despite his lack of height.

Prior to his commitment, Jenkins had narrowed his list to include Villanova, Rutgers, Miami, Clemson, and Xavier.

For coach Jay Wright and Villanova, Jenkins is the first commitment from the Class of 2013, an important year for the Wildcats on the recruiting front.

There has been some shuffling in Philadelphia recently, as the Wildcats hired Team Takeover AAU and Paul VI (Va.) coach Doug Williams as an assistant, but inaccuracies in his resume forced him to resign.

Villanova responded, though, by hiring Washington assistant Raphael Chillious, a man with strong ties to the prep basketball scene having been at South Kent School in Connecticut.

While at Washington, Chillious took the lead on the recruiting trail and with player development.

Villanova finished with an overall record of 13-19, including 5-13 in the Big East.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_