Big 5 Classic

Leslie Combs

Following a frenzied first week, the ‘Cats have had a week off to rest up and are now ready to get down to business. The men’s first tip-off back in Philadelphia is in the city’s most storied gymnasium, Penn’s Palestra. ‘Nova returns to the hardwood Dec. 6 when it takes on LaSalle as part of the Big 5 Classic.

Philadelphia has long been known for its traditional college basketball rivalries between the five universities, Temple, St. Joseph’s, Pennsylvania, LaSalle and Villanova, all within 16 miles of each other. Each year the five basketball programs play each other in a round-robin tournament, crowning the city champion at the end of the season. The Big 5 Classic is an annual event each December in which all the Big 5 teams and Drexel come to the Palestra going head to head in three games.

Last year St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli led the Hawks to the city series title, and with Pre-Season All American guard and Big 5 Player of the year senior Jameer Nelson leading the way again, St. Joe’s is looking to once again earn the title of city champion.

Going into Saturday, Villanova is the only team to have a Big 5 win yet this season after its 73-48 romp over Temple Nov. 21. Looking to extend its Big 5 2003-04 record to 2-0, the ‘Cats hope to knock off the Explorers despite its limited bench.

Senior Derrick Snowden and sophomore Jason Fraser will remain sidelined with injuries, while Chris Charles, Marcus Austin and Andreas Block still have suspensions to serve after NCAA violations regarding misuse of a University telephone access code surfaced last March.

Although it will only be able to suit up seven, ‘Nova can once again rely on the presence of sophomore Curtis Sumpter. With the ‘Cats small roster, Sumpter and Charles rotated the first five games played as the second forward to ensure the safety of ‘Nova’s team and Sumpter only played against Temple and Santa Clare. The forward scored 14 points against Temple and 16 in ‘Nova’s win over Santa Clare. Also helping the ‘Cats in the interior will be freshman Will Sheridan who led ‘Nova on the boards with nine rebounds in its win against Santa Clara. In the ‘Cats win over Redlands the rookie tied the Villanova freshman rebounding record with 17, while also scoring 23.

With Snowden on the sidelines freshman Mike Nardi was catapulted into the point guard position for the ‘Cats, but has stepped up to the challenge thus far and will be instrumental against LaSalle. Helping Nardi at guard will be ‘Nova’s new floor leaders sophomores Allan Ray and Randy Foye. The two have each stepped into their element in the early games of the season, each averaging 21.4 and 18.2 points respectively, while bringing a strong rebounding presence to the game.

Challenging the ‘Cats starting five will be a struggling LaSalle squad who enters the game with a 0-4 record under head coach Billy Hahn. Sophomore guard Gary Neal leads the Explorers in points scored averaging 15.3 points per game, while classmate forward Steve Smith averages 14.3 ppg.

The 6-foot-8-inch interior player is also LaSalle’s best attack under the boards, grabbing 27 in the first four contests.

Helping out on the perimeter, classmate Jermaine Thomas is the Explorer’s best shooting option from behind the arc, already hitting nine on the season, to average 12.5 ppg.

Coming into the game, the ‘Cats are favored to continue the Explorer’s losing streak, and the ‘Cats are hoping to play strong early, relying on its rebounding and diverse scoring ability to weaken LaSalle’s attack.

Tip-off is at 8 p.m. following a noon match-up between Drexel and Temple and a 2 p.m. St. Joe’s, Penn game.