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Villanova vs. Columbia Preview: 3 things to watch for

Villanova looks to avenge their 2012 loss to the Ivy Leaguers.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Wisconsin vs Villanova Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

College basketball season is finally back!

The Villanova Wildcats look to get off on the right foot this season when they take on the Columbia Lions Friday night in the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova is 4-2 all-time against the Ivy League school, but lost their most recent matchup 75-57 in 2012.

Columbia is coming off of an 11-16 record during their first year under head coach Jim Engles, who last coached at NJIT, while Villanova finished 32-4 last year and clinched the top seed in the NCAA tournament.

Here are three things to watch for this weekend:

Freed Omari

One of the biggest stories surrounding this team is the long-awaited debut of redshirt freshman center Omari Spellman. Spellman, who was forced to sit out last season in a controversial NCAA ruling, shined in the preseason scrimmage against Drexel, tallying nine points to go along with 12 rebounds and three blocks in just 20 minutes of playing time after reportedly losing up to 40 pounds over the past year. With Columbia finishing 340th in the country in rebounds last season, look for Omari to be unleashed by Jay Wright and dominate on the boards. Aside from that, he’s a matchup nightmare. He demonstrated a capability of taking his play to the perimeter and draining three-pointers. He can stretch the floor, bang inside, and provide a tough presence in defending the paint.

If I Could Be Like Mike...

The leading returning scorer for Columbia is diminutive point guard Mike Smith. Despite standing in at 5-10, Smith put up 13.6 points per game as a freshman last year, and looks to take the keys to the offense with the departure of senior and leading scorer Luke Petrasek. The Lions will need Smith to play the game of his life against preseason All-American Jalen Brunson in order for them to stand a puncher’s chance against a far more talented Villanova squad. Also keep an eye out for Lion senior guard Nate Hickman. Hickman is the only other returning scorer to average in double figures last season, which was his first year in an expanded role. He provides Columbia with another scoring outlet and two-way presence.

No Place Like Home…

The Wildcats will be playing all of their homes games at the Wells Fargo Center this year, as the Pavilion is undergoing a year-long renovation process. It will be quite telling to see the student turnout for Friday, as the Pavilion was widely known as one of the best home-court advantages in college basketball. If the Wells Fargo Center student section isn’t as packed and rowdy as ever for opening night on a Friday, expect many of the weeknight games to be somewhat quiet in comparison to years past, which could spell big trouble for Villanova come conference play in the new year.