College Basketball: Philly's Big 5, Villanova, Temple, Penn, St. Joe's, La Salle

TJ CorbsCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2010

Philadelphia's Big 5, one of college basketball's greatest traditions.
Philadelphia's Big 5, one of college basketball's greatest traditions.

Philadelphia college basketball has a wonderful tradition called the Big 5. The Big 5 is an informal association of local Philadelphia colleges that have been playing each other since 1955.  No other city has a tradition quite like the Philadelphia Big 5. 

The Philadelphia Big 5 has survived over half a century thanks in part to the coaches of the member schools.  Villanova's Jay Wright is known as the modern godfather of the Big 5, as he grants all four opponents a home/away series.  Without Jay Wright's kindness, generosity and respect for Philadelphia tradition, the Big 5 would not be what it is today.

Few programs of Villanova's caliber would hand out so many road games to Atlantic 10 and Ivy League schools.  La Salle's Dr. John Giannini recently said that he fully understood that the Big 5 was the only reason why a school like Villanova would ever play a program like La Salle on the road. 

The best rivalry in the Big 5 is Villanova v. Temple.  By far the two most accomplished teams in the Big 5, and Temple is the only team that has consistently challenged Villanova.  The two meet tonight on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m.

The worst rivalry is Villanova v. Saint Joseph’s (PA), also known as the Holy War.  This rivalry is a joke, as this article illustrates:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/529641-villanova-versus-saint-josephs-pa-college-basketballs-holy-war.  Temple also abuses Saint Joseph's (PA).

For more information on the Big 5 over the past 10 years, please read this article:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/546388-philadelphia-big-5-all-decade-teams-and-all-decade-players

In this article, I will review each team, its history, success, prestige, fan bases and state of the current program.  I will settle the debate about who is the King of Philadelphia once and for all.

Here are the rankings:

  1. Villanova:  24.5 Stars
  2. Temple:  19 Stars
  3. Penn:  13.5 Stars
  4. Saint Joseph’s (PA):  11.5 Stars
  5. La Salle:  8 Stars


  • Prestige:  5 Stars
  • Success:  5 Stars
  • Fan Support:  5 Stars
  • Coach:  5 Stars
  • Current Team:  4.5 Stars
  • Total:  24.5 Stars
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  31
  • NCAA Tournament Wins:  49
  • Final 4’s:  4
  • National Championships:  1

Prestige – Villanova is one of college basketball’s nationally elite universities.  A jewel of the Big East conference, an ESPN favorite and a marketing machine.  There is no denying that Villanova trails only a handful of teams in the nation when it come to college basketball brand recognition.  5 Stars.

Success – Four Final Fours and a National Championship.  The most recent Final Four was only two years ago.  Top 10 all time in NCAA Tournament appearances and NCAA Tournament wins.  I think this 5 star rating is more than justified.  5 Stars.

Fan Support – 15 year wait list for season tickets.  Consistently put 20,000 fans in an NBA arena for games against marquee opponents.  Villanova fans are known for packing in the house.  5 Stars.

Coach – Jay Wright is one of the most recognizable faces in college basketball.  He has been to six straight NCAA Tournaments, advancing past the first round five times, advancing to the second weekend four times, the Elite 8 twice and the Final Four once.  He turned down offers from schools such as Kentucky, Indiana and even the Philadelphia 76ers.  He will likely be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as the coach of Villanova basketball.  5 Stars.

Current Team – Ranked No. 8 in the nation, this Villanova team is very good.  The Wildcats are not perfect, so they don’t get the 5 Star rating, but they should find themselves in the second weekend of the dance and possibly the Final Four.  4.5 Stars.

Total Rating – The class of Philadelphia’s Big 5, Villanova earns 24.5 out of 25 stars.


  • Prestige:  4.5 Stars
  • Success:  4.5 Stars
  • Fan Support:  2 Stars
  • Coach:  4 Stars
  • Current Team:  4 Stars
  • Total:  19 Stars
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  28
  • NCAA Tournament Wins:  31
  • Final 4’s:  2
  • National Championships:  0

Prestige – Temple has a fantastic national name.  They have been tournament regulars for most of the past 30 years.  A recent 10 year NCAA Tournament win drought and their lack of exposure due to the Atlantic 10 drops Temple down half a star.  Temple athletics could also face budget cuts:  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/545573-temple-athletics-could-lose-funding-under-tom-corbetts-regime.  4.5 Stars.

Success – One of the top 10 winning programs in college basketball history, and 13th all time in NCAA Tournament appearances.  Not advancing to the Final Four in over 50 years and going over 3,500 days since their last NCAA Tournament win drops Temple down half a star.  4.5 Stars.

Fan Support -  As has been reported, Temple fan apathy is shockingly bad.  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/486762-college-basketball-temples-fan-apathy-is-shockingly-bad.  Temple could not even sell out their 10,000 seat arena when top 10 Georgetown came to town.  Temple has struggled to put 3,000 fans in the seats for several of their games this year.  Fan support is the programs black eye.  2 Stars.

Coach – Fran Dunphy has Hall of Fame potential.  He has coached in 13 of the past 17 NCAA Tournaments.   He loses a star, however, for his failure to get out of the first round.  Fran should have made it out of the first round last year.  Some Temple fans may use the excuse of Cornell being underseeded, but let’s face it, Fran coached how many Ivy League champions and could not win a tournament game?  Tough to accept the excuse of an Ivy League team being too good for a top 5 seed to advance past the first round.  If Fran can get out of the first round a couple times, and make the second weekend a couple of times, he could very well find himself in Springfield, MA one day.  4 Stars.

 Current Team – This year’s Temple team was picked by TJ Corbs to finish in the top 10.  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/504448-college-basketball-tj-corbs-2010-2011-season-preview-villanova-no-1.  They disappointed early, dropping a couple of head scratchers.  But a recent win over top 10 Georgetown has Temple back in the top 25.  Expect to see Temple in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.  4 Stars.


  • Prestige:  3 Stars
  • Success:  3 Stars
  • Fan Support:  2.5 Stars
  • Coach:  2.5 Stars
  • Current Team:  2.5 Stars
  • Total:  13.5 Stars
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  23
  • NCAA Tournament Wins:  13
  • Final 4’s:  1
  • National Championships:  0

Prestige – Dominated their conference under coach Fran Dunphy for almost two decades.  Penn does not have the national clout of a Villanova or Temple, but they do deserve some recognition for winning against schools with similar missions and their consistent tournament appearances.  3 Stars.

Success – Again, too many tournament appearances and conference championships to ignore Penn’s success.  There are many major conference teams that would gladly take 23 NCAA Tournament appearances.  Not enough wins to go above 3 stars.

Fan Support – For an Ivy League team, Penn has decent fan support.  Here is a clip of Penn fans in action:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIytYh8Ikic   2.5 Stars

Coach – Jerome Allen is one the all time great players at Penn, and appears to have the Quakers off to a good start.  Allen has only been coach at Penn for one season, too early to give him much praise.  2.5 Stars.

Current Team – Penn has struggled recently, but a couple wins early this season have Penn fans thinking they can return to their spot on top of the Ivy League.  2.5 Stars.

Saint Joseph’s (PA):

  • Prestige:  2 Stars
  • Success:  2 Stars
  • Fan Support:  4 Stars
  • Coach:  2.5 Stars
  • Current Team:  1 Star
  • Total:  11.5 Stars
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  19
  • NCAA Tournament Wins:  18
  • Final 4’s:  1
  • National Championships:  0

Prestige – There is a reason why one needs the (PA) after the name Saint Joseph’s, and that’s because few people outside of Philadelphia have ever heard of Saint Joseph’s (PA).  2 Stars.

Success – Not a complete disaster, but nothing to write home about.  2004 was a good year, resulting in an Elite 8.  But Saint Joseph’s (PA) has not won a NCAA Tournament game since.  2 Stars.

Fan Support – The one thing that Saint Joseph’s (PA) does do well is support their team.  They do not have as many fans as Villanova, but their fans are passionate.  Most fans shave their heads and paint catchy slogans on the back of their bald domes to celebrate their team.  4 Stars.

Coach – Phil Martelli is on the hot seat.  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/483203-college-basketball-coach-phil-martelli-of-saint-josephs-pa-on-the-hot-seat.  And things have not gone well for him this year.  Throw into the mix controversies surrounding Delonte West and Jameer Nelson’s academics (neither graduated, and somehow West remained academically eligible his entire time at Saint Joseph’s (PA)), as well as disciplinary issues (Delonte West once knocked out a team trainer and received little punishment, as opposed to Jay Wright suspending McDonald’s All-American Jayvaughn Pinkston for the entire season for defending himself against two frat boys at a party), and one has to question Phil as a coach.  2.5 Stars.

Current Team – This team is pathetic.  They are currently 4-8, have not defeated a top 100 team, have only one win against a top 150 team, and have a list of bad losses too long to recap.  If a team is going to cost Phil Martelli his job, this is a pretty good one.  1 Star.

La Salle:

  • Prestige:  1 Star
  • Success:  3 Stars
  • Fan Support:  1 Star
  • Coach:  1.5 Stars
  • Current Team:  1.5 Stars
  • Total:  8 Stars


  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  11
  • NCAA Tournament Wins:  11
  • Final 4’s:  2
  • National Championships:  1

Prestige – Nobody has heard of La Salle for generations.  No prestige at all.  In fact, the Atlantic 10 would be best served by trimming the fat and dumping La Salle.  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/492829-college-basketball-sorry-la-salle-but-atlantic-10-should-trim-the-fat.  1 Star.

Success – La Salle won the National Championship in 1954.  They also went to the Finals in 1955 before falling to Bill Russell's San Francisco team.  You cannot deny this success, but these two seasons are the only reason why La Salle is awarded any success stars.  La Salle has only won NCAA Tournament games in two other seasons, 1983 and 1990.  Both years they were one and done wonders.  3 Stars.

Fan Support – La Salle has no fans.  1 Star.

Coach – Last season, La Salle was picked to win the Atlantic 10.  Despite their best players remaining healthy all year, they finished with a horrific 12-18 (4-12) record and missed the Atlantic 10 tournament.  This was perhaps the worst single season coaching job in Big 5 history.  1.5 Stars.

Current Team – This year’s La Salle team is better than Saint Joseph’s (PA), so they receive an additional half star.  Don’t interpret this as La Salle being good, rather Saint Joseph’s (PA) is simply that bad.  1.5 Stars.

There you have it, the debate is finally settled once and for all. 

Temple plays Villanova tonight on ESPN2 at 7:00 p.m.  Tune in to catch the best rivalry in the Big 5.

TJ Corbs - tackling the hard hitting issues of the Northeast Corridor