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Now-senior guard Lucas Monroe looks to pass to a teammate during last season's game against Villanova at the Palestra on Dec. 1, 2021. Credit: Anna Vazhaeparambil

Last week, Penn men's basketball couldn’t prevent the Hawks from taking flight. On Saturday, the Quakers let the Explorers find the weak spots in their defense just a few too many times. But on Wednesday night, they will attempt to keep the Wildcats in check.

Penn will be taking on Villanova at the Finneran Pavilion in Villanova, Pa, marking the third of four straight Big Five matchups that the Quakers will play before a two-week break for finals. 

A win against the Wildcats would push the Quakers back to .500 roughly a month before Ivy League play begins in January, while a loss would drop them to 5-7, erasing much of the gains made with the Thanksgiving weekend sweep of the Cathedral Classic.

While Villanova’s record of 3-5 might seem less impressive at first glance, the team has confronted more challenging competition than the Quakers. Following up on a run to the Final Four in March, the Wildcats have suffered narrow losses at Michigan State and against No. 20 Iowa State in the Phil Knight Invitational. 

With a 1-1 Big 5 record so far, Villanova is vying to bring home a trophy before beginning its Big East conference schedule later this month. 

In Wednesday’s game, Penn will aim to bounce back from its first two Big 5 matches, a pair of overtime losses against St. Joseph’s and La Salle. Needless to say, a win at Villanova is key to keeping the Quakers’ hopes for a Big 5 title alive. 

“After those two overtime losses, it makes you even more hungry for a victory,” coach Steve Donahue said. “We all come here recruiting these guys to compete for a Big 5 championship, and Villanova is usually the way to get there.”

Beyond just providing a huge boost in the Big 5 standings, a win against Villanova would be an incredibly emotional moment for many Quakers. Penn hasn’t defeated the Wildcats since the 2018-19 season, when even this team’s seniors were still in high school.

“Being a senior and being able to go out there and win on their court would be huge to me,” senior guard Jonah Charles said. “And not just to me, but to [senior guard] Lucas [Monroe] as well … it would mean the world to all of the seniors on the team.”

Despite the final score in Penn's last two defeats, the matchups still featured a pair of valiant performances from junior guard Jordan Dingle. Against St. Joe’s, he put up 28 points, and three days later, he topped that with a career-high 37. 

But in both games, Dingle’s heroics fell short of pushing the team over its opponents, which Donahue largely attributes to shortcomings with the team’s defense and rebounding. 

Dingle will need to show out again, especially as the Quakers may be coming into the match shorthanded. Donahue confirmed that sophomore guard George Smith is out for tomorrow’s game, while junior guard Clark Slajchert, the team’s second-leading scorer, and senior center Max Lorca-Lloyd are both questionable to play. 

However, despite the past two losses, Monroe is confident in Penn’s chances tomorrow. 

“We’ve shown flashes throughout the whole entire season where we can compete with any other team in the country,” he said. “We’ve been getting off to some hot starts … but we’ve been making a point of keeping up that intensity for the entire 40 minutes."