Coming off two Big 5 losses, Penn men's basketball will have a shot at winning not only its first Big 5 game of the season, but its first since January 2020. The catch: Penn will be matching up against a Villanova team that, coming into the season, was ranked No. 16 in the NCAA. So far, though, Villanova's started the season out 3-5 and have already lost to a Big 5 team, Temple.
Four Daily Pennsylvanian sports staffers make their picks for who will come away with the win in Wednesday night's contest.
Villanova 77, Penn 64 — Brandon Pride, former Senior Sports Editor
Just a little over a week ago, with Penn sitting on a winning record and Villanova reeling at 2-5, I would have felt confident in picking the Quakers to pull off an upset of their Main Line rivals. However, since then, Penn has lost two home Big 5 games at the (not very packed) Palestra to two inferior opponents. Simply put, a team that needs late-game heroics just to force overtime versus La Salle at home can’t be expected to take down the Wildcats on the road.
With that being said, this Quaker team in recent years has always remained competitive against an experienced Villanova team that boasts upperclassmen as its top three leading scorers, so expect Penn to cover the spread (13.5 points). At the end of the day, these are Wildcats the Quakers are dealing with, not Siamese, so Penn’s next win will likely have to come another day.
Villanova 81, Penn 74 — Kristel Rambaud, Sports Reporter
Villanova sits at 3-5 on the season — but with a perfect record at home. And this Wednesday, that’s exactly where they’ll be playing.
But besides Nova's home-court advantage, junior forward Eric Dixon of the Wildcats has been a star player. And Dixon’s 6-foot-8 frame makes him a threat in the paint. Sophomore big man Nick Spinoso stands an inch taller, but Dixon will be one of his toughest matchups to date; Dixon currently outrebounds and outscores Spinoso.
Furthermore, Dixon and graduate senior guard Caleb Daniels lead the way for Villanova, averaging 16.9 and 18 points per game, respectively. Meanwhile, Penn’s own dynamic duo of junior guards Jordan Dingle and Clark Slajchert have been averaging 23.4 and 17.4 points per game this season. But if Slajchert is out — he missed the overtime loss against La Salle — it could mean offensive trouble for Penn. Dingle had to carry the offense in the game, scoring 37 of their 81 points.
If Dingle needs to put up another hero performance, it may not be enough to prevail.
Penn 72, Villanova 70 — Walker Carnathan, Sports Associate
There are two ways to view Penn’s season thus far. One is to look at the Quakers, a group who was pegged to win the Ivy League and compete for a Big 5 title, and wonder why they have been plagued by such inconsistent play. The other is to look at the Quakers, a team with ample perimeter shooting, shot creation, and a dominant leading man, and wonder when they are going to hit their stride. I am choosing the latter.
Coming off back-to-back overtime losses, Penn coach Steve Donahue said the team is “not playing as well as we can.” That much is undeniable. But Wednesday’s tilt with the Wildcats offers Penn a rare opportunity, not only to erase the sting of their early struggles, but to prove just how much better they can be.
Villanova is just 3-5 this season, but after a win over Oklahoma in which the Wildcats hit 56.8% of their shots and welcomed the debut of star freshman Cam Whitmore, they will be just as formidable as ever before. But after two brutal defeats, I expect the Quakers to make a statement against their cross-town rivals, with Dingle leading the way as the group shows that their best is yet to come.
Villanova 74, Penn 64 — Matthew Frank, Senior Sports Editor
Following the Cathedral Classic, the Quakers were rolling. Four straight wins. Victories in five of their last six. Now, with the caveat of a couple untimely injuries, Penn is struggling, having lost its first two Big 5 matchups of the season and not finding much scoring depth outside of Dingle and Slajchert. Both Big 5 bouts were tight, overtime matchups, but in each, Penn came in as the favorite and dropped what looked like winnable games.
That’s not an ideal place to be heading into a matchup against an extremely capable Villanova team. Struggling out the gate — and already falling to one Big 5 school, Temple — this might have been the year for Penn to pull off its first Nova upset since 2018. But after a close win over a talented Oklahama team and the return of injured freshman forward Cam Whitmore, Villanova seems to be returning to form.
That spells trouble for the Quakers, which is why I have Penn dropping this one and continuing to remain winless in Big 5 play since January of 2020.