Looking at Villanova’s Non-conference Schedule
As with every new season, college teams look to retool and piece together what’s left from the previous roster in an effort to transition. The case for this year’s Villanova squad is a bit unique though. The defending national champions will take to the court for the 2016-17 campaign with a loaded lineup that features nine returning members to the roster including this year’s captains Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds plus the additions of two stellar recruits in big men Omari Spellman and Dylan Painter. Head coach Jay Wright has set his team up for a challenging road this year, with marquee matchups early that set the table for another incredible season of Wildcat basketball.
Here’s a look at Villanova’s confirmed non-conference opponents:
November 11 at Purdue
In the second annual Gavitt Games, the Big East pits itself against the Big Ten in a full three day slate of games. Villanova will visit the Mackey Arena in the first contest between these schools since 2012 when ‘Nova beat the Boilermakers 89-81 at Madison Square Garden as part of the 2k Sports Classic in an overtime thriller thanks to the help of a trio of threes from James Bell.
Purdue, who is coming off an 85-83 double overtime upset against Arkansas Little-Rock in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional, is hoping they can solidify someone as a “true guard” for a lineup that was haunted by a lack of one all year. Currently P.J. Thompson is the go-to. Thompson’s high school coach Noah Haynes of Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School in Indianapolis said in a Purdesports.com article that “[Thompson] is like a coach on the floor for us. He's pretty multi-dimensional as an offensive player. He's got the ability to shoot the three, to go past you or come off a screen. He's a tough matchup."
The Boilermakers will counter the surging offensive production of Villanova’s Darryl Reynolds with sophomore center Caleb Swanigan. Last year, Swanigan’s 8.3 rebounds per game put him in the record books for sixth all time on the Big Ten rebounding list as a freshman; a list that includes the likes of Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries, and Greg Oden.
Expect an all-out attack by the Wildcats early in the matchup, setting the tone against this younger Purdue team to ensure a smooth victory.
November 17 vs Western Michigan at the TD Arena for the Gildan Charleston Classic
In Villanova’s first appearance in the Charleston Classic they will take on the Broncos of Western Michigan University. This will be Western Michigan’s second go around in the Classic, their first since the inaugural in 2008. WMU finished 13-19 last season, thanks to a 3-14 mark in away games. It was difficult to gain ground in the Mid American for the Broncos since five teams finished with 20 or more wins (Akron, Ohio, Buffalo, Ball State, and Northern Illinois).
Interestingly enough, Western Michigan often mixes up their nonconference schedule well. They are the only school in Division I to compete in all five of ESPN’s basketball tournaments. This year’s WMU team is a young one: they only have three seniors compared to five freshman. This inexperienced lineup for the Broncos will have to prepare for the tough test against Villanova who has chemistry thanks to a lot of turnover from the previous year. Speaking of turnover, that’s one area WMU will need to focus on as they move forward with said young lineup. Their 1.0 turnover to assist ratio is fairly low, and a defensively sound ‘Nova squad will just eat that up in the transition game.
Anticipate a smooth sailing run through this game and the event overall.
December 3 vs Saint Joseph’s
This year’s edition of the Holy War will take place at the Pavilion and as always, will be a marquee matchup for both teams. Last season was a tight game-turned smooth W for the visiting Wildcats. The then #8 ranked team in the country controlled the pace and 18 point performances by Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart sealed the win. The Hawks will surely miss former star forward DeAndre’ Bembry and his offensive production, but junior forwards Jai Williams and James Demery are the likely fill ins for Bembry’s spot. Emerging sophomore guard Chris Clover has outstanding do-it-all ability and can guard all five positions. Expect increasing minutes for him this season.
Villanova has a superior squad compared to SJU, but these classic Big 5 matchups tend to draw physical, dramatic contests. All signs are pointing to ‘Nova pulling out a win in and starting off the Big 5 hot.
December 6 vs La Salle at the Palestra for Big 5 Showcase
Similar to the St. Joe’s game, iconic moments have come out of Philadelphia Big 5 games, especially at the Palestra. Also similar to the SJU game is the fact that Villanova took care of La Salle last season with a commanding 76-47 win and is set for a similar performance this season. Explorer head coach John Giannini commented on his squad’s non-conference opponents saying, “[Our] schedule features several traditionally elite teams nationally and other winning programs that annually compete for conference championships. This combination should provide us with many challenges and a strong strength of schedule for postseason consideration." With a program that is constantly looking to set solid footing within its league, top-notch non-conference foes force a team to compete early and often.
This La Salle roster has five players who have transferred in, with three of them being eligible for play this season after having sat out last year. Demetrius Henry is coming in from South Carolina where he came off the bench for the Gamecocks averaging 5 points and 3.5 assists per game. Orlando native Pookie Powell is arriving from the University of Memphis. The final redshirt player who is eligible this season is Philadelphia kid B.J. Johnson. Johnson, from Lower Merion High School, is transferring in from Syracuse despite receiving high praise from former head coach Jim Boeheim following the team’s tour of Canada in B.J.’s freshman year. Johnson’s father, Bob, was a letterwinner in his four years at La Salle (1986-1990) where he lead his team to three straight NCAA Tournament appearances following a 1987 run to the NIT Finals.
La Salle's main threat to Villanova will be posed by Auburn transfer and redshirt junior Jordan Price. One of 20 players invited nationally to the Under Armour All American Camp this summer, Price offers a body that’s tough to defend and a comparable shot that he can knock down from anywhere. A matchup of Mikal Bridges for Villanova versus Price will be one to look out for. Look for a lopsided win for the Wildcats at college basketball’s most famous arena.
December 12 vs Notre Dame at the Prudential Center for the Never Forget Tribute Classic
The inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic puts a double header of four iconic brands in college sports together on one night. Villanova faces Notre Dame in the first matchup, followed by an in-state rivalry that goes back ages with Penn State vs Pitt. The Villanova/Notre Dame game will be played right before the Army-Navy football game which takes place this year in Baltimore, Maryland. The event itself was started by the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund which provides education assistance for post-secondary study to financially needy dependents of the people killed or permanently disabled in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Fund has delivered millions of dollars in monetary support, and will ultimately contribute more than $100 million to families affected.
Head coaches Jay Wright and Mike Brey go way back to their days both coaching in the American East Conference (Wright with Hofstra and Brey with Delaware) and to when their current teams were rivals in the Big East. Both know the significance of playing in an event of this caliber as well. Wright noted in a Villanova.com article that the event means more than basketball to everyone, saying “We’re honored to be a part of the inaugural Never Forget Tribute Classic. To participate in an event that raises scholarship funds for the victims of the September 11 attacks means so much to our program and University. We’re also excited to compete against an outstanding Notre Dame program.”
Brey mirrored Wright’s comments with a nod towards the battle that will take place on court. "Taking on the defending national champion and a program of Villanova's caliber will be a great thrill and challenge for us early in the season,” he said. “We also are honored to participate in an event that will benefit the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund."
With heavy-hitting teams set to hit the hardwood together, a lot of fans in Philadelphia will be watching. Medford, New Jersey native and proud St. Joseph’s Preparatory School alumnus Steve Vasturia, who grew up rooting for Villanova, will be again a topic of conversation. Another storyline headed into the contest is sophomore forward for the Irish, Elijah Burns, will be in the paint against his former teammate at Blair Academy, Tim Delaney.
The Irish, who return a core group of Vasturia, Bonzie Colson, and V.J. Beachem from last year’s Elite Eight squad, are going to be competitive as always, despite the loss of the powerful Zach Augustine to the graduation. While it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if Notre Dame steals a win on the neutral site, Villanova has the upper hand for sure.
December 13 vs Temple
In the third Big 5 matchup of the season for Villanova, the team will host Temple. The Owls, who are seeking revenge from last year’s blowout loss 83-67, will have to adjust if they expect to take down a near intact Villanova roster. If you recall from the previous meeting between the schools, the offensive production came from unlikely sources. Jalen Brunson dropped a career high 25 points after going 9/11 from the field. Brunson, son of former Temple star Rick Brunson, was on track to go to follow in his dad’s footsteps on North Broad Street, but was lured to the Main Line in the nick of time. On Temple’s side, freshman Trey Lowe also scored a career high in points with 21, as he hit 5 threes.
Senior Josh Brown went from top reserve to a go-to guy last year for Temple. The point guard started all 33 games and boasted the 10th best assist to turnover ratio in the country with 3.5. The smooth moving St. Anthony’s (NJ) graduate is a consistent player who is unselfish and active on all sides of the ball.
Since this game is on ‘Nova’s home court, it would be a surprise to see a similar finish as last year.
January 29 vs Virginia
The University of Virginia Cavaliers have been one of the top teams in the ACC and the country each year, but have been struck with some unfortunate luck come NCAA Tournament time. Case and point, last year’s number one seeded team in the Midwest region ran rough shot through opponents, winning with considerable margins against Hampton, Butler, and Iowa State, but fell by six to a 10 seed in Syracuse. Or what about the strange loss at George Washington for the second game of the year? Or maybe the three losses in four games to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and Florida State? Maybe even the stunner of a loss at Duke could turn heads. Then again, the 11 straight wins from November 19 to January 1 would seem to counter that point. You could even point to the season sweep of Louisville ro the important home win against Carolina.
Needless to say, the Cavs had quite a weird season last year and it’s unfortunate to think this, but the losses of Anthony Gill and first team All-American-turned Milwaukee Buck Michael Brogden really don’t help the cause for this year.
One thing consistent from last year to this one will be play style. Coach Tony Bennett has a sound philosophy of a paced offensive and defensive strategy that has been a hallmark of the program. And it’s been effective too. Virginia took care of Villanova’s quick scoring ability and won by 11, 86-75 in Charlottesville. This season’s game will be at Villanova and will put both teams to the test right in the heart of conference play.
UVA has some Philly phl-air too. Freshman DeAndre Hunter is fresh off of a PIAA AA State Player of the Year award winning season at Friends’ Central. The Philly native was the main option for the Phoenix in high school, and was a highly touted prospect coming out.
Out of all of the nonconference games or Villanova, this would be the one they would most likely lose if they were to lose any. With that said, a lesser Virginia squad compared to last year will be a tough but good test for the Wildcats and Villanova will prevail at home.
Photo: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament