September 13, 2016
The Villanova Wildcats aren’t going to sneak up on anyone in 2016-17 after capturing the program’s second national championship, and on Tuesday, their road back to the NCAA Tournament was officially revealed.
You can find the full schedule here. Here are some takeaways from the slate that Jay Wright’s team will have to face:
The Wildcats have four marquee games in this group, none bigger than the rematch against Virginia on January 29th in South Philly. The Cavaliers, who are projected as a Top-10 team yet again, outscored ‘Nova in Charlottesville early last year. Tony Bennett’s team does have to replace departed seniors Malcolm Brogdon, Anthony Gill, and Mike Tobey, not an easy task.
A November trip to Purdue figures to be an extremely tough early-season test. Impressive sophomore forward Caleb Swanigan is back for the Boilermakers, who should find themselves in the preseason Top 25. Matt Painter’s team went 25-9 and was the Big 10 runner-up a season ago.
On December 10th, the Wildcats travel to a neutral floor in Newark to take on Notre Dame in an old Big East matchup. Villanova’s preseason tournament is the Charleston Classic, and they’ll be heavily favored to win against a field that includes the likes of Wake Forest and Mississippi State.
As for the Big 5 games, Villanova’s hardest test could come December 6th at Tom Gola Arena against a transfer-heavy La Salle team that should be much improved.
Villanova has always been the hunted in new Big East, so they’re used to getting everybody’s best shot. They Wildcats are 53-8 in the conference since realignment.
The league is getting better as a whole, but it’s only a two-horse race at the top. Xavier, a preseason top-fiveish team, has quite a few contributors back — Sophomore guard Edmond Sumner has a ton of talent — so January 10th (Pavilion) and February 11th should to be a lot of fun.
Another team to watch out for is Creighton, whose best player is a Philly native, lightning quick guard Maurice Watson, Jr. The defending Big East champs lost Isaiah Whitehead to the NBA, but Seton Hall also still presents a tough conference opponent for the Wildcats.
Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann