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High fives for Philly Big 5

Dec 11, 2001 6:49 AM

Big Five basketball is big time again in Philadelphia.

St. Joseph’s, Temple, Villanova, Penn and LaSalle have each enjoyed success over the years, but perhaps never have all five been this good at the same time. And, the famed Palestra as never looked better or sounded louder.

This is the Mecca of inner-city college basketball.

St. Joseph’s opened the season winning five of its first six games. Temple started 3-4, but coaching legend John Chaney scheduled Duke and Villanova during that stretch. Nova began 4-2, including a one-point loss to Penn. The Quakers are 6-2, including a six-point loss to St. Joseph’s.

LaSalle was the only one with a losing record (4-5), but one of the victories was a three-point win over Villanova. Then, throw-in suburban Drexel for a snack and no city in America boasts more collegiate hoop excitement.

For years, the focal point was the Palestra, the 8,722-seat home of the University of Pennsylvania. Andy Katz in a recent ESPN.com piece during the Philadelphia Classic, aptly caught the essence of experiencing a game at the Palestra.

“Nothing compares to the buzz this joint provides”¦The gym, and this is a gym, a magnificent gym in every sense of what a gym in a college was and still could be without the need for frills, was rocking as the day continued,” he said.

The Palestra was home not only for the Big Five, but a perennial venue for the NCAA tournament until greed took over and moved the venue to antiseptic domes that seat 60,000 or the more comfortable surroundings of the Spectrum or First Union Arena in Philadelphia’s case.

It’s great to see the Palestra shake off some of the TV rust and once again come into the spotlight. The Big Five is alive and well and we love it.

Stating their case

Davidson beats North Carolina, Utah State drops Utah, Butler takes care of Purdue, Indiana State upsets Indiana, Portland edges Oregon, Northern Iowa stuns Iowa and Pepperdine levels both UCLA and USC.

Denny the Dog would be proud.

Yeah, the Georgetowns and Clemsons of the world still live high off the hog in the early-season, scheduling the so-called “lightweights” to inflate their won/lost record until the conference season gets into full-swing after New Year’s.

But for the most part, college hoops have become a bettor’s delight. More than any year we can remember underdogs are not just holding their own against the spread, they are winning outright.

UNC-Wilmington lost to Wake Forest by one point and everyone thought something was wrong with the Deacons. Well, Wake went on to win the Big Apple NIT and is a top-20 team again.

Northern Iowa’s fans stormed the court after beating Iowa, much the way Indiana State did when downing Indiana. But, maybe the most compelling reversal was seeing Pepperdine become the best team in Los Angeles after wins over USC and UCLA on the road.

Throw in Gonzaga, the Washington team nobody wants to play, especially the Huskies and Washington State. Betting favorites this year is definitely a dicey situation.

EARLY ATS STUDS

It’s hard to keep up with the 327 Division I teams, although the Sagarin Ratings, do the best job. So here are a few teams that have started well against the spread, and a few more than haven’t been so fortunate to bettors.

THE GOOD: Texas Tech 6-0 (ATS), Missouri 5-1, Washington 5-0, Notre Dame 4-0, Buffalo Univ. 4-0, Southern Illinois 5-1, Syracuse 5-1, Northern Iowa 4-1,

THE BAD: Miami of Ohio 0-5, Wyoming 0-5, Ga Tech 0-4(at home), Idaho 0-4, Siena 1-5, Iona 0-4, Providence (0-3 away), Utah 1-4.