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12-1-2021-mens-basketball-versus-villanova-jelani-williams-anna-vazhaeparambil
Senior Jelani Williams dribbles the ball down the court looking to make a pass during the game against Villanova on Dec. 1. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

With Penn basketball back in action after a year of inactivity, we take a look at the teams around the Big 5 and the chances for the Penn basketball to take home another Big 5 title. Four out of the five teams begin Big 5 play on Wednesday, Dec. 1.

Penn Quakers

The Quakers open up Big 5 play against No.6 Villanova on Wednesday Dec. 1. A win for the Quakers will be crucial if they hope to contend for a Big 5 title this season.  

Penn currently has a record of 3-6, with notable losses to No. 20 Florida State and No. 13 Arkansas on the road. The Quakers will play all four of their Big 5 games within the next two weeks in the following order: Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph’s, and La Salle. 

Sophomore Jordan Dingle has picked up right where he left off before COVID-19, becoming the face of the offense for the Red and Blue. The Valley Stream, N.Y. native has averaged a team leading 19.6 points per game so far. 

Another key player to look to make an impact will be graduate student Jelani Williams. Right now, he is one of the key upperclassmen leaders on a very young Quakers squad, even though this is his first season of playing. He is one of just two players on the roster to have played and started in all of the games for the Red and Blue so far. 

Villanova Wildcats

Currently ranked No. 6 in the nation, the Wildcats easily pose the biggest challenge for the Quakers and their chances to bring home the title this season. So far, Villanova has accumulated a 4-2 record through its first six games. Those wins include a gritty one against at-the-time No .17 Tennessee and two close losses to ranked opponents No.2 Purdue and No. 5 UCLA, with the latter coming in OT. 

Look for graduate student Collin Gillespie to pick up right where he left off last season before suffering a season-ending MCL injury. In the first six games, he is averaging close to 15 points per game. Another key factor for the Wildcats will be junior guard Justin Moore, who is averaging a team-high 16 points per game. 

Last Sunday, the Wildcats picked up their first win Big 5 play with a commanding 72-46 win in the Palestra over the La Salle. Their next game in the Big 5 will be against the Penn Quakers and it is expected to be a close game and may have championship implications further into the Big 5 season.

Temple Owls

The Owls will open their Big 5 play on Dec. 1 with a game against the La Salle Explorers. Early in the season, the Owls have been struggling with a 3-3 record. Included in those losses was a five-point loss to No. 20 USC. In their most recent game, the Owls barely squeaked by with a win, 75-74 against the Delaware Blue Hens. 

As of late, sophomore Khalif Battle has been a bright spot for a struggling Temple team. Throughout the first six games he has come away with a team high of 194 minutes played and and is averaging 21.3 points per game. Another player to watch out for is redshirt freshman Damian Dunn, who is close behind with 168 minutes played, but is only averaging 10.8 points per game.

After their La Salle game tonight, the Owls will host the Penn Quakers on Saturday, Dec. 4, hoping to come away with two key victories in Big 5 play. 

La Salle Explorers

Much like the Temple Owls, the La Salle Explorers have also been struggling as of late. The Explorers opened up Big 5 play on Nov. 28 with a crushing defeat by a score of 72-46 at the hands of the Wildcats. The team's next Big 5 game will be against the Owls tonight, which should be a close match between two weaker opponents.

Currently, La Salle sits at 2-3 on the year, with their two wins coming against the Albany Great Danes and the Army Black Knights. Two of their losses have come in overtime to the Sacred Heart Pioneers and the Delaware Blue Hens, by scores of 86-81 and 85-82 respectively. 

Key players for the Explorers to look out for will be sophomore Jhamir Brickus and junior Josh Nickelberry. Both players are the only two members of the La Salle squad that are currently averaging over 10 points per game. If La Salle is to come away with the title this season, expect for these two players to be key contributors to their success. 

After their Temple game tonight, the Explorers will host Penn on Saturday, Dec. 11, hoping to come away with a win in Big 5 play. 

Saint Joseph's Hawks

St. Joe's will be the last team to open its Big 5 season. On Dec. 4, the Hawks will travel to Villanova to take on the Wildcats to open their season. Having a later start to their Big 5 season might play into St. Joe’s hands as it will have had more opportunities to scout their opponents. 

The Hawks currently sit at 3-3 on the year so far, with wins coming against Maryland Eastern Shore, Mount St. Mary’s and Georgetown. In their only game against a ranked opponent so far, the Hawks lost to No. 20 USC by a crushing 70-55 score. St. Joe's will be in action on Dec.1 against when it faces off at home against Binghamton Bearcats. 

Currently, the Hawks have three players who are all averaging over 10 points per game throughout the first six games. Redshirt senior Taylor Funk is averaging a team high 19.2 points per game, with sophomore Jordan Hall and graduate student Ejike Obinna coming close behind with 12.8 and 12.5, respectively. 

After opening Big 5 play against Villanova, they will host the Quakers on Dec. 8. The Hawks will open the Big 5 play against two formidable foes.

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