Game Preview: Villanova vs. Temple

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats look to win their first outright Philadelphia Big-5 Title since 2011 in an in-city battle against the Temple Owls.

The Teams: Villanova (18-2, 7-1 Big East) 2 Game Winning Streak vs. Temple (6-13, 1-7 AAC) 1 Game Winning Streak

The Date: Saturday, February 1

The Time: 4:00pm ET

The Location: Liacouras Center; Philadelphia, PA.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 560 WFIL (Villanova) or 1210 AM WPHT (Temple)

The Story of the Season (Villanova)

A win is a win, whether it’s pretty or not. That’s been the story the past week for the Villanova Wildcats basketball team. The Cats are on a two game winning streak, but neither of the victories have come easily or been all that impressive. Yes, they came against the top two teams in the preseason conference poll (Marquette and Georgetown), but both squads have been underperforming all season. The game against Marquette was one where Villanova failed to trail all game, but collapsed at the end of regulation to allow an overtime period to even occur. Against Georgetown, the Cats had easily their worst offensive performance of the year, looking like a jumbled mess that resulted in 16 turnovers and only 18 made field goals.

Far and away the brightest spot on offense over the two-game stretch has been James Bell. Bursting onto the scene as of late, Bell scored 16 points against Georgetown to lead the team in scoring for the forth straight game. With his recent output, he’s surpassed forward JayVaughn Pinkston as Villanova’s go-to scorer, averaging 20.5 points over the past four contests. Much of this can be attributed to his increased efficiency from beyond the 3-point arc, where he has shot 44 percent in the same four game stretch. He will need to be just as effective against a Temple team that is 205th nationally in 3-point defense.

Going into the month of February, the Cats success will be very dependent on victories in the rebounding battle. In the month of January, Villanova’s one loss came against Creighton. This was also the only game of the month where the Wildcats were out rebounded. This will require a team effort as no Wildcat has averaged more than 5.9 RPG this season.

The Story of the Season (Temple)

January has been a month that the Temple Owls would do anything to forget. In the past month, Temple has gone 1-8 and has slipped all the way to the bottom of the American Athletic Conference standings. The Owls have also not been able to win any close games recently, as five of the eight January losses were by less than double digits.

The problem for the Owls has come on defense and it’s been extremely obvious the whole way. This season, Temple is allowing 76.7 PPG, good enough for 306th nationally in total scoring defense. The Owls have allowed teams to score at least 80 points in eight games this season, as they’ve seemed resort to trying to win shootouts, which has resulted in more losses in 19 games this season than all of their 2012-13 campaign. This defensive ineptitude could be especially glaring on Saturday against the No. 1 offense in the Big East Conference.

The one area where the Owls can hang their hat is the well roundedness and efficiency of their offense. Four Temple players average double-digits, and the team as a whole shoots over 44 percent from the field. One of the major players in this contest will be Owls forward Anthony Lee. Lee averages almost a double-double for Temple and is fourth on the team in scoring (14.2 PPG) to go along with leading the squad in rebounding (9.1 RPG). His contribution inside will be extremely important establishing an inside presence for Temple with Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu manning the inside for Villanova.

The Players to Keep Your Eyes On:

Villanova: The Wildcats have been looking for a pure point guard since the departure of Scottie Reynolds in 2010. They may have finally found that player with sophomore Ryan Arcidiacono. He may not light up the scoreboard with his statistics (10.2 PPG, 3.5 APG) but he’s great at protecting the basketball. After a season in which he struggled mightily turning the ball over, he has cut down significantly on that stat, as he has turned the ball over as many times (25) in 20 games this season as he did in only eight games during his freshman year. For a team that’s in the bottom half of the conference in turnovers, Arcidiacono has been a player that the Cats have been able to turn to keep the ball safe.

Temple: Senior Dalton Pepper might just be the most improved player in all of college basketball. In three years with West Virginia and Temple, Pepper’s best offensive season had been a meager 3.9 PPG average. Now, with a jump from about 11 minutes a game to over 36, Pepper has exploded offensively. He’s the team’s leading scorer at 18 PPG, a 15.1 point increase from last season, to go along with being the second best rebounder at 5.2 RPG. This drastic offensive improvement can be attributed to his vast efficiency development. Pepper is shooting a career high percentage from the floor (47.0 percent), from the 3-point line (42.0 percent) and from the charity stripe (90.0 percent). He has been the Owl all season, and with the helplessness of Temple defensively, Pepper’s point production could make or break the Owls’ chance at victory.

The Stat of The Game:

Villanova is currently 3-0 in this year’s edition of the annual Philadelphia Big-5 Challenge. Nova hasn’t won an outright Big-5 Challenge while losing a game since the 1982-83 season when the Cats went 3-1.

The Prediction

This is the final Philadelphia Big-5 matchup of the season for either, and even though the Owls look overmatched, the Liacouras Center should be rocking for such an historic rivalry. With that being said, Villanova’s offensive strength against Temple’s defensive weakness will make a monumental difference in this one. I see the Wildcats easily winning their fifth outright Big-5 title since 2000 with a pretty effortless victory over Temple.

Villanova 86 Temple 70

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