There's been a lot of talk each basketball season over the past few years over whether the Big 5 still matters. Villanova hasn't lost a Big 5 game in five years, and the teams tend to place more emphasis on actual conference play.
But if Penn men's basketball's 60-51 loss to Temple was any indication, the informal Philly conference is alive and well.
If you need any evidence of that, just look at the attendance numbers from the game. A total of 7,233 fans attended the game, nearly double the previous season high of 3,879 from the Princeton game. Except for the Ivy tournament and the Villanova game last year, I have never seen the Palestra that packed.
And it wasn't just Penn fans — at one point in the second half, a "DE-FENSE" chant rose from the crowd while the Quakers were on offense. The Temple faithfuls showed up in full force and made Penn's homecourt feel like a neutral site.
All game long, the fans were loud. They roared with every basket, steal, and foul. The crescendo came with about four minutes left in the game, when sophomore forward AJ Brodeur knocked down a three to give the Quakers their first lead since the start of the second half.
The noise kept going as Temple's Shizz Alston Jr. responded with a trey of his own to send the game into the final media timeout tied up at 51. For a game that might not have any large-scale ramifications, the fans got into it, and the teams took notice.
"That was a great crowd today, it's why the Big 5 is special. Coaching at Penn, playing at Penn is special," coach Steve Donahue said.
"I think it's always great here," Temple coach Fran Dunphy added. "I thought there was a great representation of Temple fans today, that was terrific."
If you need any more proof that the Big 5 still matters, look at it this way: The two toughest opponents on Penn's schedule are unquestionably Villanova and Temple. Donahue called the Owls a tournament-bound team after the game, and he might not be wrong. These games give the Quakers valuable experience against high-caliber teams, experience that can help them in their quest to claim an Ivy title.
The game was physical, chippy, exciting, and closer than the final score indicated. In other words, it was Big 5 basketball at its finest. The quality of play is still there, and there's really nowhere else in the nation that you can find five schools of the same level within such close proximity.
The games aren't all played in the cathedral of basketball anymore, and there's no trophy at stake for the winners, but make no mistake: This conference still matters.
Jonathan Pollack is a College junior from Stamford, Conn., and is the Senior Sports Editor for The Daily Pennsylvanian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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