I’d like to apologize before this post gets underway. I forgot to mention one of the most significant rivalries in all of college sports. Duke and North Carolina in college basketball is just like Ohio State and Michigan in football or the Yankees and the Red Sox in baseball. They were scheduled to play last week, but I forgot to mention it in my games of the week. Fortunately, due to the huge ice storm that hit the south last week, they did not play.
As a result, they played last night (Thursday the 20). The game was a thriller, North Carolina upset Duke 74-66 and kept their now eight game winning streak alive.
For those of you who do not know, the Big Five is one of the oldest unofficial college basketball organizations in the sport. It was founded in 1955 to bring light to the skill of Philadelphia basketball at the time and to help the University of Pennsylvania keep up with the Palestra. The Big Five is composed of five schools all in and around the city of Philadelphia. It includes LaSalle University, Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, St. Joseph’s University, and Villanova University.
Here is a map to show how close these schools actually are.
Naturally, this proximity created intense rivalries between the schools and their fans. The Big Five is like nothing else in sports. Not only has it produced some of the best basketball games ever played, but it has also created some of the most interesting dynamics in all of college sports. There were unwritten agreements between coaches to not share scouting reports and game films on other teams in the Big Five to teams from outside the city. Double headers at the Palestra were sacred, and athletic directors would never schedule games that would conflict with them. Players that wanted to leave the school they were at would never consider transferring to another Big Five school.
Recruiting in college basketball in this time was nothing like it is now. Very few teams traveled outside of their region to recruit talent. They focused their attention to the talent in their own back yard. For the Big Five, that was the Public and Catholic High School Leagues across the city. This meant most of the kids who waged war on the courts throughout their childhood and in high school could do the same in college. Winning the Big Five meant supremacy for these players throughout the summer, where they’d be playing streetball just as they did throughout their childhood. It was a way of life for basketball players in Philadelphia. The Big Five wasn’t bad basketball either. It was top tiered talent, playing at a top level. Many years, it was hard to find a post season tournament that did not have a Big Five team in it.
Drexel University is the only Philadelphia basketball school not included in the Big Five. They are not considered a part of the Big Five because they did not have the same prestige about basketball about that time. This interest has spurred the creation of the City Six, but it is not recognized like the Big Five is.
Now for my games of the week. At this point in the season, there are always games on. There are also many games this weekend, unfortunately THON is going on, so I imagine most people will not be watching them (if you even considered it anyway). I’m not going to recap my last games of the week because they were a while ago, and it wouldn’t mean much to go over them.
My first game of the week is a battle for the second spot in the Atlantic Ten Conference. This game occurs tonight, February 21, at 7 PM. It features the “havoc” defense of Shaka Smart and VCU, taking on a UMass team who are having their best season in recent memory. The winner of this game will take a huge advantage into the Atlantic Ten Conference tournament.
My second game of the week is a rematch of a game of the week that I mentioned before. Syracuse versus Duke Round Two. The game is tomorrow night, Saturday February 22, at 7 PM. This game occurs in Cameron Indoor Stadium (meaning its a home game for Duke) and Duke is coming off of a tough loss against North Carolina. It is going to be a hard game for them to lose. However, Syracuse is coming off of the first loss of their season, to an abysmal Boston College team who only had six wins up to that point. Oh and did I mention Syracuse is ranked 1 in the country and Duke is ranked 5?
My final game of the week is Michigan versus Michigan State. This game is Sunday, February 23 at noon. Not only is this a battle for the state of Michigan, but it is also a battle for first place in the Big Ten. Taking over first place in the Big Ten would mean a huge boost and a first place seed going into the Big Ten tournament.