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MBB Big 5 Classic Preview: Drexel

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The Wells Fargo Center will host the Big 5 Classic on Saturday, Dec. 2.

Saturday, Dec. 2, will be a historic day for Philadelphia collegiate basketball.

Not only will it be the first time that Villanova will not claim at least a share of the Big 5 title since Penn won in 2018–19, but the city’s collegiate championship will take the form of a new triple-header day of games called the Big 5 Classic.

Wednesday’s home loss to St. Joseph’s sent the Wildcats to the earliest game in the series. No. 18 Villanova (6-2, 0-2 Big 5) will face off against Drexel (4-3, 0-2 Big 5) at 2 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center.

A Philadelphia Tradition, Revamped

The inaugural Big 5 Classic will consist of three games at the Wells Fargo Center. 

After Villanova and Drexel compete for fifth place at 2 p.m., the third-place matchup will take place at 4:45 p.m. between La Salle and Penn. Finally, Temple and Saint Joseph’s will contend for the Big 5 Classic Championship at 7:30 p.m.

Since its establishment in 1954, the Big 5 title was based on regular season play between five schools in the greater Philadelphia area: Villanova, La Salle, Penn, Temple, and St. Joseph’s. 

However, Philadelphia collegiate basketball entered a new era last April, when Drexel became the sixth official member and plans were announced for the Big 5 Classic.

Leading up to the triple-header, the six schools were separated into a pair of three-team “pods” to determine tournament seeding. Villanova’s losses to the other two members of its pod, Penn and Saint Joseph’s, resulted in a third-place finish among the three.

Defensive Dragons

The Dragons ended their 2022–23 season in the second round of the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) Tournament. They finished last season with a 17–15 record. 

In Big 5 play, Drexel suffered two close losses to Temple and LaSalle.

The Dragons currently hold a 4–3 overall record as the team goes through non-conference play. The Wildcats will be the first team the Dragons face this season who are ranked in the AP Top 25.

Head coach Zach Spiker and the Dragons march into the Big 5 Classic off a 69–48 win over Lafayette on Wednesday. The Dragons demonstrated their offensive arsenal, shooting 58% in the second half of the game.

Fifth-year forward Mate Okros was the Dragons’ leading scorer and sharpest three-point shooter against Lafayette. Okros came off the bench to tally 14 points on 80% shooting from beyond the arc.

The Dragons’ overall leader is senior forward Amari Williams, who recorded a pair of double-doubles this season in wins over Winthrop and Fairfield.

A third playmaker to watch is sophomore guard Justin Moore, not to be confused with the Villanova star graduate guard of the same name. Drexel’s Moore has led the Dragons in assists in five out of seven games. 

While the Dragons shot well against Lafayette, the team’s strong suit this season is its defense. Drexel ranks tenth in the nation in scoring defense, as the team holds its opponents to an average of 60 points per game.

‘Cats Aim to Bounce Back

Heading into the first Wells Fargo Center game of the season, head coach Kyle Neptune and the Wildcats strive to put Wednesday’s Big 5 upset by Saint Joseph’s behind them.

The Wildcats faced serious offensive struggles against the Hawks, shooting just 10–37 from three and tallying 17 turnovers on the night. They struggled with the Hawks’ 3–2 zone defense.

Moore and redshirt senior forward Eric Dixon led the Wildcats on Wednesday, combining for 31 of the team’s 65 points.

The Wildcats will need to clean up their performance in the paint to confront Drexel’s top-ten defense. 

Bringing back the same offensive power seen in last weekend’s Battle 4 Atlantis title would be a sure way to force the Dragon defense to yield. A defeat of Drexel in the Big 5 Classic can give Villanova the chance to prove that its losses to Penn and St. Joseph’s were only speed bumps.

 A 14-Year Reunion

Saturday will be the first time these teams see each other on the court since a commanding 77–58 Villanova victory in 2009. The Wildcats have won 18 of their 19 contests against the Dragons in series history.

The Big 5 Classic will also mark Drexel’s debut game in front of a Wells Fargo Center audience.

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About the Contributor
Katie Lewis, Co-Sports Editor
Katie Lewis is a sophomore from Miami, FL in her first year as Co-Sports Editor in 2024. From covering games to writing features and profiles, she loves to find the story behind Villanova sports. Pursuing her enthusiasm for writing and journalism in her studies at Villanova, Katie is double-majoring in English and Communication while concentrating in Writing and Rhetoric. When Katie isn’t at Holy Grounds working on her next article, she enjoys playing tennis with Villanova’s club team.
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