Villanova's Big 5 record has implications beyond the city

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- The national championship trophy sitting dead center in the team practice facility entrance pretty much drops the mic on how dominant Villanova has become in its recent history.

The Wildcats' four-year record of 108 wins in 121 tries speaks volumes as well.

But in Philadelphia these two sets of numbers say nearly as much as that championship hardware and the chasm between overall wins and losses:



The first represents how many Big 5 games the Wildcats have won in a row, dating back to 2012.

It's the second, though, that is deceptively more impressive. In the 61-year history of the renowned City Series, no senior class has finished its Philly run with a perfect record.

Not La Salle with consensus player of the year and 3,000-point scorer Lionel Simmons. Not Saint Joseph's with freshman of the year turned player of the year Jameer Nelson.

Yet with a 78-57 dusting of Temple on Tuesday, Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and Darryl Reynolds etched their names in the record books. From freshman year to the time they exit the Villanova campus, they will have won every Big 5 game they've played.

Jay Wright knew the stat going in, knew what could happen with a win against Temple. Still, the coach couldn't wrap his arms around it once his team officially had achieved the record. He tried to find an argument, wondering if maybe three-year players like Guy Rodgers at Temple and Ken Durrett at La Salle at least won their 12 games, seeking an asterisk to his team's accomplishment.

They did not.

"Wow," he said, shaking his head. "That's crazy. That's amazing."

It's also about more than Philly. While the Big 5 might seem like a quaint throwback, harkening back to an era when teams could schedule rivals in doubleheaders and even tripleheaders, the meaning of this citywide domination stretches beyond the Philadelphia boundaries.

Wright grew up just north of the city and he knows how this thing goes. Records ordinarily don't matter. Weird things happen in Big 5 games -- upsets and bad-shooting nights, crazy stars and improbable finishes.

Except in recent history, this thing has been downright boring. Villanova has turned these much-revered Big 5 games into contests more closely resembling guaranteed games. The Wildcats have stomped all over their Philly phriends, the 21-point pasting of Temple hardly unique. Every single victory against the Owls, La Salle, St. Joe's and Penn in that four-year run has come by double digits, the average margin of victory wider than the Schuylkill River -- 21 points.

"It's hard to argue they're not the best group [in the history of the Big 5]," said Temple coach Fran Dunphy. "They've done an unbelievable job, and they also have that national championship beside their name. This is what college basketball is all about. They have it going on right now. It's up to the rest of us to try to figure out. It's not good, bad or indifferent. It's what college basketball is. We have to celebrate what they're doing but also do our best to get better."

Villanova has done this in an era when it's not supposed to be possible. On paper, the Wildcats aren't that much different than everyone else in the city -- a small, Catholic school absent the big-ticket dollars of football, building a program with four-and-dones instead of one-and-dones. Toronto Raptor Kyle Lowry, on campus to be honored for his Olympic gold medal, represents the biggest NBA star the Wildcats have right now.

So the Big 5 ought to be a push.

Instead, it's a walkover.

And the reason goes straight to what Villanova showed against Temple. The Wildcats couldn't score in the first half, as in at all. They shot 34 percent from the floor, the game hovering somewhere between unwatchable and painful for much of the first half. Yet Villanova owned a 13-point advantage at the break.

A team lauded for its offense, a high-scoring juggernaut that loves to drain 3s, instead locked the Owls out of the basket. The Wildcats forced 12 turnovers in the opening 20 minutes, 18 for the game, making it difficult for Temple to complete anything close to an offensive set.

As if that wasn't enough, Villanova then found its groove. The game went from 13-8 to 29-16 faster than a Maserati down the Autobahn and from 29-16 to over even faster. Hart scored no points in 15 minutes and then 21 of the Wildcats' next 31, following up a 37-point symphony against Notre Dame with a 26-point garage-band effort.

Hart is from the D.C. area, Jenkins from Maryland. They were not born into the Big 5, but like all kids who put on a city uniform, they came to understand it once they arrived on campus. Being No. 1 in the city may not matter so much when you're No. 1 in the country, but they get the importance to people in Philly, and they appreciate what it means to beat your rivals.

"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."

They won't have to work their memories too hard. It will all be right there, marked in ink in the Big 5 record books.