VILLANOVA, Pa. – The calendar page has turned to December and after a perfect November (7-0), the challenges only figure to grow for the No. 4 ranked Villanova Wildcats. Up first, a Philadelphia Big Five clash Saturday at Hagan Arena against the Saint Joseph’s Hawks (4-3 overall, 0-0 Big Five).
The game will air nationally on ESPN2 at 5:30 p.m. Bob Wischusen and Fran Fraschilla will describe the action for the national television audience. Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby will have the radio call on 610 Sports Radio.
The Wildcats defeated Penn 90-62 in their first Big Five contest of the 2017-18 season. The venue was the Jake Nevin Field House and the intimate setting offered a unique experience for a team that played its first two home games of the campaign at the 20,056 seat Wells Fargo Center.
“It was awesome,” stated junior guard Jalen Brunson, who led the Wildcats with 17 points against the Quakers. “It was hard to hear Coach (Jay Wright) sometimes. I had to read his lips, I couldn’t really hear him.
“I think the most important thing about it though was that our team still focused on what went on in between the lines (of the court). We didn’t really focus on the atmosphere. It wasn’t brought up in any huddles, it wasn’t brought up before the game. We kept on doing what we are supposed to do, which is playing Villanova Basketball inside the 90 by 54 feet.”
That ability to tune out the surroundings will be vital again on Saturday, when the Wildcats face the Hawks in 4,200 seat Hagan Arena. The environment is expected to be intense, only this time the ‘Cats will be the guests. Although they have traveled to Allentown and the Bahamas, this will be VU’s first official road test of 2017-18.
“Every place we play, it’s pretty loud,” Brunson, the BIG EAST Player of the Week, noted. “The opposing fans are great rooting for their teams. Those environments are intense. But I think the louder the environment, the closer we are together as a team. We are going to focus on playing for each other.”
The Wildcats know well the intensity of the City Series matchups according to Wright.
“We live here,” stated the head coach, now in his 17th season. “We watch these teams all the time. We all know the Big Five is different – the players play pick-up against one another in the summers. The guys know each other and know their games.
“We play these games early (in the season). We’re playing against – I’m sure I’m biased – the best coaches in the country. We use these games to see how other teams are going to play us. The other Big Five teams know us so well. They know how to stop us. We come out of these games having a better understanding of how other teams will attack us. It’s really beneficial.”
Saint Joseph’s defeated Bucknell 83-70 on Wednesday night to improve to 4-3.
The month of December includes only a single home game for the Wildcats (vs. La Salle on Dec. 10 at Wells Fargo Center). Villanova will also play two neutral site contests, the first of which comes Tuesday night against Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic (7 p.m./ESPN and 610 Sports Radio). There will also be four road games on tap, including another Big Five battle on Dec. 13 at Temple and the first two BIG EAST games of the season, Dec. 27 at DePaul and Dec. 30 at Butler.
There is also a neutral site contest on Dec. 22, when the Wildcats meet Hofstra at Nassau Coliseum.
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.