These Are All the Times Big 5 Teams Squared Off During March Madness
As you probably know by now, there’s a chance that Villanova and Temple play each other in the second round of the NCAA Tournament this weekend at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
As if the tournament wasn’t wild enough, now two Philly schools could be facing off against one another to not only gain their usual bragging rights but also end one another’s season. This got us thinking: When has this happened before?
In earlier eras of the NCAA Tournament, teams were actually placed in the region that they hailed from geographically. This meant that it was a little more likely that Big 5 schools would play one another. Still, it’s only happened five times in the history of the NCAA Tournament, with all five matchups taking place between 1970 and 1978.
Here’s a look at each of those games:
- 1970 East Region First Round. Villanova def. Temple, 77-69.
In the first Big 5 tourney matchup, it was Villanova against Temple at the Palestra. It might as well have been a regular season game! Villanova — who came into the game 18-6 and was led by Howard Porter and Chris Ford — had five players in double figures. Ford had 19. Temple, who was 15-12 in the regular season, was paced by John Richardson’s 22 points and Lee Tress’ 20 to keep things close.
Villanova would go on to advance to the Regional Final that year before losing to St. Bonaventure. In its report on the game, Villanova’s student newspaper The Villanovan said, “Last Saturday night was proof positive of the theory that says when two Big Five teams take the court at The Palestra, you can throw away the records and scouting reports.” It’s nice to know sportswriters used the same clichés in the 1970s that they do now.
- 1971 East Region First Round. Villanova def. St. Joseph’s, 93-75.
This season’s East Region was loaded for Big 5 fans: Villanova, St. Joe’s and 3rd-ranked Penn were all in the same bracket. The Fordham Rams were also in the East that year and were coached by a young Digger Phelps — who had been an assistant at Penn the previous three seasons and had a major hand in sculpting that year’s Quakers team. In the Holy War’s only NCAA Tournament game, star forward Howard Porter led Villanova with 26 points and 18 rebounds en route to the 18-point victory. St. Joseph’s forward Mike Bantom, who would go on to make the 1972 U.S. Olympic Team, scored 20 points and grabbed 14 boards. Villanova would defeat Fordham in their next game before taking on the undefeated Quakers for the right to go to Houston for the Final Four.
- 1971 East Region Final. Villanova def. Penn, 90-47.
Penn came into this game ranked third in the country, the highest they’ve ever been, and carrying a 28-0 record. In their first two tournament matchups, they beat Duquesne, 70-65, and South Carolina, 79-64. They were led by backcourt duo Dave Wohl and Steve Bilsky and seemed destined for the Final Four that year. They had beaten Villanova the last three seasons, including a 78-70 win that January. For whatever reason, though, that was the Wildcats’ day. Villanova used an up-tempo attack to jump out to a 21-point lead at halftime and from there the Quakers’ dream season was all but over. To add insult to injury, according to a 2011 article in The Penn Gazette, Penn was so sure they would be heading to the Final Four that they scheduled a plane to Houston instead of Philadelphia. When they lost, they were forced to share the same plane home with the victorious Wildcats. “They were very gracious, but it seemed like there were thousands of Villanova fans waiting for them at the airport,” Bilsky told the Gazette. “We got some taunts there. It was kind of like a nightmare that got worse as the day progressed.” Villanova would go on to beat Western Kentucky in overtime in the National Semifinal to set up a meeting with John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins, which they lost, 68-60. They later had to forfeit all of their wins from that season, however, when it was revealed that Howard Porter had illegally signed with an agent while he was still playing at ’Nova.
- 1972 East Region Semifinal. Penn def. Villanova, 78-67.
Penn was able to get revenge on ’Nova the following season, as they knocked off their rivals in the Sweet 16. This was Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly’s first year at Penn. He picked up where Dick Harter, who departed after the 1971 season, left off, coaching the Quakers to a two-loss regular season and keeping them in the top 10 in the polls for much of the season. Philip Hankinson led the way for the Quakers with 22 points. Bob Morse added 20 of his own and Corky Calhoun poured in 21. Penn would fall in the East Regional Final to the University of North Carolina, 73-59.
- 1978 East Region First Round. Villanova def. La Salle, 103-97.
The most recent NCAA Tournament battle between Big 5 teams took place in 1978, when Villanova and La Salle met in a high scoring affair in the first round. La Salle got some great individual performances in the game and led at halftime by a score of 49-46. Michael Brooks had 35 points and 14 rebounds, while James Connolly flirted with a triple-double, going for 15 points, seven assists and nine rebounds. Villanova’s balance would carry the day, however, as five players were in double figures, including Keith Herron scoring 24 and Reggie Robinson and Alex Bradley scoring 22 each. Villanova fell in the Regional Final to Duke, who had beaten Penn the round before.
Since 1978, Big 5 schools have not met in the NCAA Tournament. While not as storied as the Big 5’s regular season history, whenever these local institutions meet in March there’s undoubtedly a little extra on the line and it can lead to some memorable games. Let’s hope it happens again this weekend.