The Big East is set to kick off conference play in just under a week from the posting of this article, but before we can get into that there are a trio of bad blood rivalries that we have to talk about to get us ready for the season.
DePaul at Loyola Chicago
Starting us off this Saturday is going to be DePaul making the short trip up to visit Red Line rival Loyola Chicago. DePaul and Loyola faced off as recently as 2021 with the Ramblers squeaking out a tough 68-64 win on the road. The Blue Demons have won 11 of the last 13 meetings between the windy-city rivals and have an impressive 19-3 edge over Loyola at home.
As far as the matchup goes on Saturday, it may be a lot closer than a lot of the previous meetings of these two teams before. KenPom has Loyola Chicago as one-point favorites at home and that may be a fair line. DePaul is banged up, and like, really banged up. I do not know what goes on at these DePaul practices but it is evident that Tony Stubblefield has these guys working hard. With that, unfortunately, comes injuries. Whether it be Zion Cruz in a finger splint, Caleb Murphy AND Nick Ongenda with wrist/hand injuries or Yor Anei with a leg injury, DePaul is banged up to say the very least.
With that being said, it is not preventing them from scoring the ball. On Wednesday, DePaul put up triple digits in a win over Samford and that was the fourth time out of seven games that they have tallied over 80 in a game this season. On the flip side, Loyola Chicago has failed to score over 55 points in two of their last three games including a loss in which Harvard only scored 61.
Loyola Chicago turns the ball over a LOT, as displayed by their ranking in KenPom’s turnover percentage metric: 363/363. Dead last. DePaul has young young guys and fresh legs looking to make some plays, and if they stay disciplined they should have no problem adding on to their win total in this rivalry.
Providence at Rhode Island
Much like Providence’s 2022 Big East regular season conference title, there may be reasonable suspicion to put an asterisk next to ‘rivalry’ on this game, depending on who you ask. Providence head coach Ed Cooley said that rivalries should be restricted to conference teams (fair), but then changed his tone later this week when asked about it again, admitting it is in fact a rivalry.
I mean, can you really blame Ed Cooley? "The Ocean State Rivalry" as they call it has been dominated by Providence in the last decade or so as the Friars have emerged victorious in nine of the last eleven contests. All time, Providence has a commanding 17-game lead, 75-58.
This matchup on Saturday is exactly one hour following the tip off between DePaul and Loyola and may be a game where you flip over at halftime and stay and watch the rest. From the outside looking in, Providence has the sheer talent alone to win this game, but URI is not going to just roll over and die. Rhode Island is solid on defense, they limit three point opportunities very well and there are really no holes on that side of the ball. However, on offense, they are abysmal. On KenPom’s website there are 363 eligible teams in college basketball and Rhode Island ranks 260+ in the following offensive categories:
Offensive Adj. Efficiency (264th)
Effective FG% (354th)
Steal % (311th)
Non-Steal TO% (316th)
Seven categories over 260th is not going to get it done for the rest of the season, but I do not think it tells the whole story. Rhode Island is fantastic on the offensive boards (and defensive for that matter) and should have a clear advantage there. Brayon Freeman is going to be URI’s go-to guy, as he ranks top five in the country taking over 37% (!!) of his team's total shots in a game.
For Providence, they should not have much trouble winning this game. Bryce Hopkins, Devin Carter and newcomer Jayden Pierre should have the firepower to thwart the stout Ram defense. The biggest question mark in this game, and frankly going forward, is when are we going to see the Jared Bynum that was selected to the Big East Preseason First Team? If there was any game to shake the rust off the reigning sixth man of the year, this would be a good one to do it before conference play kicks up.
Penn at Villanova
Welp, here is a game that I was not expecting to have to preview with such anxiety, but here we are!
If you are unfamiliar with Philadelphia and the Big 5, you are probably sitting there wondering how Villanova could be rivals with Penn. For an extremely watered (pronounced woodered) down summary of the Philadelphia Big 5, it is a nucleus of five teams located in or around the city of Philadelphia consisting of: Temple, Penn, LaSalle, Saint Joseph’s and Villanova (sorry Drexel, not the City 6). These five teams compete in an unofficial round-robin style tournament in non-conference play every year for bragging rights around the city and down the shore. I could go on for hours about the rich history, tradition and legacy of the Big 5, but we have a game to preview so click here (once you are done reading the rest of this article) to read all about it.
As far as the finale of our triad of rivalries goes, this may have the richest tradition, but it has also been the most one-sided of late. Since 2001, Penn has only defeated Villanova three times out of their twenty meetings. The most recent Quaker victory came in a nail biter at the Palestra where Penn knocked off reigning national champion Villanova by three early in the season.
This upcoming game, as early as a month ago, was penciled in as a shoe-in win for the Wildcats. Now, just seven games into the season, it is one that a lot of fans are going to pay a little bit more attention to come game time. Villanova’s glaring weakness early on in the season, besides their uncharacteristic three point shooting, is their defense. The Wildcats constantly find themselves sluggish out of the gates but also out of the halftime locker room. The biggest silver lining is that they generally find their way back into games one way or another, but the fact that it keeps happening game after game is a major concern in the early season.
Villanova has a chance to silence a lot of the outside noise when they face a tough Oklahoma team on Saturday, but Penn’s Jordan Dingle may be the best guard they face in the week. When the Wildcats and Quakers met in 2021 Dingle had a team-high 21 points including an emphatic slam on a backdoor cut over a trailing Brandon Slater. Penn has a very solid backcourt tandem in Dingle and Clark Slajchert that may present some tough matchup problems for Villanova.
Like the Providence Friars in their matchup with Rhode Island, the Wildcats should have enough talent to emerge victorious at home in this one, even if they do not bring their a-game. Penn is one of the slower teams that Villanova will face and they allow teams to play a slow pace style game themselves. The Quakers also barely force any turnovers at all ranking in the bottom ten percent in all of college basketball in turnover percentage.
If the Quakers allow the Wildcats to play their brand of basketball, in their tempo and their way, it should be a game that Villanova pulls away in comfortably. KenPom is giving Penn a 14% chance to win this game and predicts Villanova will win by double digits. I will believe that when I see it, but this game, in addition to the Oklahoma game, will be a great chance to get back on track against teams that are good at exploiting Villanova’s weakness.