With Temple and Saint Joseph’s men's basketball each picking up wins on Wednesday night, the final seeding for this weekend’s inaugural Big 5 Classic has officially been set.
Penn (5-3), having finished with a 1-1 record against Big 5 opponents this season, just missed out on a spot in the championship game. The team will battle for third place against La Salle (5-2), who also ended Big 5 play 1-1.
The revamped Big 5 format has brought a lot of change to the traditional Philadelphia basketball competition. With the addition of Drexel University and the new pod system, the six participating schools were divided into two groups at the beginning of the season. In a round-robin fashion, each team played the other two from its pod, setting up a three-game final event at the Wells Fargo Center this Saturday.
Penn claimed the second seed in pod two after an iconic victory over Villanova at the Palestra in mid-November, and a tight early-season loss to St. Joe’s. After beating the Quakers, the Hawks went on to upset the Wildcats to secure the top seed. Temple topped pod one, setting up a championship showdown with St. Joe’s.
One ticket to Saturday’s Big 5 Classic triple-header grants admission to all three games. The fifth-place consolation game between Villanova and Drexel will tip off at 2:00 p.m. The Quakers will then take the stage in the fight for third at 4:45 p.m. before the 7:00 p.m. championship game.
La Salle is coming into this game with strong momentum. The Explorers currently sit at 5-2, only having lost to Duke and Temple. Senior guard Jhamir Brickus leads the team in scoring, averaging just under 18 points a game. Brickus is shooting 50% from the three this season, making the most out of his team’s offensive possessions. Junior guard Khalil Brantley trails closely in scoring with 17.6 points per game.
Brickus and Brantley have formed a dynamic and high-scoring veteran duo and are deadly from the perimeter. Sophomore forward Rokas Jocius, instead, has been active in the paint, averaging seven rebounds a game and totaling six blocks on the season. The 6-foot-10 forward from Lithuania has improved measurably from last year, starting all seven games for the Explorers so far.
In only eight games, the Quakers have experienced many ups and downs. From an underdog home victory at the Palestra against Villanova, to losses at Maryland Eastern Shore and Belmont, the Quakers have yet to find consistency. That being said, the team has begun to collectively fill the massive holes left by the departure of key players. In the overtime loss against Belmont, three different Quakers hit 20 points on the night.
Coach Steve Donahue will be optimistic about the maturity and impact shown from the team’s underclassmen. Freshman guards Tyler Perkins and Sam Brown have already contributed on both ends of the floor. The former is already Penn’s second leading scorer whereas the latter earned a central role after making the most of his opportunity against Lafayette.
The matchup against La Salle will come down to whether Penn can defend the perimeter and control the paint. Expect junior center Nick Spinoso to be battling in the post with Jocius throughout the game, fighting for rebounds and taking trips to the free-throw line. Brickus and Brantley’s experience compared to that of Penn’s younger team will make defensive matchups and switches challenging for the Quakers. Controlling that pair of guards in transition and spreading the floor on offense are the two keys to success for Penn.
While this game will not be as illustrious as the championship, it is still an opportunity for the Red and Blue to play difficult competition on a big stage, in front of their biggest crowd yet. Students can claim free event tickets and multiple free fan bus trips to and from South Philly will be available before Penn’s tip-off time and after the conclusion of the game.