Villanova Basketball has a long a storied tradition of excellence and success. As a program, you usually don’t get that without having someone to push you to be your best. That’s where rivalries come in. Rivalries have produced some of the greatest games in Villanova history, and vice-versa, some of the the Wildcats’ greatest games have created rivalries. While these games still only count as a single win or loss, they mean so much more to the team’s fan base.
These are the games that we get excited for, even if they’re not as competitive as we’d hope. Last season, I wasn’t too amped up to watch Marquette come into town in early January. But to have Georgetown come to the Pavillion for the first time in almost a decade with March right around the corner? Yeah, I was pumped. Both games had about the same result, a late push by the opponent with a double digit Nova victory. But the Georgetown game meant a lot more to the fan base because, well, beating Georgetown is awesome!
All of that being said, rivalries do have an ebb and flow to them. When they become less competitive, it does take off a little bit of the luster they once had. Other times, the teams just don’t face each other anymore because one of them got all scared about football money and bolted to the ACC like a big orange coward. And other times the attention is taken by a new rival that is having close and exciting games every time the teams play. That’s what we’re going to look at today.
There’s no great metric for defining or rating a rivalry, but I did want to limit the options to teams that Villanova has recently played (sorry to all the Duquesne fans out there). So I set the cut-off at teams Villanova faced in the last four seasons, which gave me a pool of 51 teams. Then I cut out about half of those to get down to 26. While there was a pretty clear cut Top 10 in there, the other 16 fell into some pretty interesting categories that I wanted to touch on before the main event.
Some of these aren’t really rivalries, but they all have aspects that rivalries are built on. These teams could fade into Villanova’s past, or they could be the rivals of the future.
Football Rivals - Villanova is a basketball school first and foremost, but they will end up playing some of the same teams they play on the grid iron. In the last four seasons, Nova has played Delaware and Lafayette each three times, with another game against Lafayette scheduled for next season. These teams aren’t on the same level, and their match-ups are almost always one sided. But play a team enough times and eventually they might find a way to beat you.
Revenge Rivals - NCState and Wisconsin have each handed Villanova first weekend losses in the NCAA tournament. Because Villanova doesn’t get to play these school’s often, there isn’t always the chance for revenge, but fans would love a second crack at these schools. That won’t be the case for Marquette, the team that knocked off Villanova when it was ranked #1 in the nation. That game will be circled on next year’s calendar.
Revenge Rivals... The Other Way - Rivals are sometimes in the eye of the beholder, and just because Villanova fans don’t think there’s a rivalry doesn’t mean the other team doesn’t want another chance at us. Kansas, Iowa, and Mount St. Mary’s are all 0-2 against Nova in the last four years with one of those losses coming in the NCAA tournament. But no team fits this category like Oklahoma does. Villanova fans may feel satisfied that they got their revenge in the Final Four, but Oklahoma fans will certainly want a chance at redemption after that historic blow-out.
Recruiting Rivals - Villanova only faced Miami (FL) once in the last four seasons, a thrilling shootout in the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16 during the Wildcat’s Championship run. But while that contest went Villanova’s way, the Hurricanes have beaten Nova out for some pretty notable recruits, Lonnie Walker and Chris Lykes, this past off-season. Another ex-Big East school that could fall into this category is Notre Dame, who Nova beat last season but lost the recruiting battle for Prentis Hubb this month. While the wins on the court mean more, they don’t come unless you win in recruiting.
“I Wish They Were Our Rivals” Rivals - There hasn’t been much talk about a renewal of their home and home series, but I don’t know a single Nova fan that wouldn’t want to see Virginia on the schedule every season. Not only did that series produce two exciting games, but there was honest and mutual respect between the teams and the fan bases. These teams pull kids from the same areas, they both value defense first, and their coaches both look good in a suit. DEAR BASKETBALL GODS, PLEASE MAKE THIS A THING!!!
Fading Rivals - What do St. John’s (NY), St. Joe’s, Temple, LaSalle, and Penn all have in common? In the last four seasons they’re a combined 0-25 against Villanova, and they all lost those games by an average of over 17 points. The last time any of these teams lost by single digits to Nova was St. John’s in 2014. There is something special about the Big 5, and games against St. John’s will always bring up memories of the “Old Big East”, but there’s just not that much to get excited about these days.
Top 10 Most Exciting Rivalries
Here we go, the Top 10 most exciting rivalries TODAY. Sure history will factor in to this, but it’s got to be a rival that’s still giving us great games now if it’s going to make the top of the list.
#10 - Syracuse Orange Men
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 1-1
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): -5.5 points
- Last Game: 12/20/2014, NOVA 82 - CUSE 77 (OT)
Syracuse was my personal favorite rival while I attended Villanova during the mid 2000’s. There were two reasons why I loved seeing Cuse on the schedule. First, these were usually GREAT games that would draw record attendances and create unbelievable basketball moments. Second, I never had a good experience with their fans and watching them watch their team lose was wonderful. In their last 10 games, these teams are 5-5, and in every match-up at least one if not both teams were ranked. This is a great rivalry that sadly is on its way out the door, if it isn’t gone already.
#9 - UConn Huskies
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 0-1
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): -12 points
- Last Game: 3/22/2014, NOVA 65 - CONN 77
Like Syracuse, this rivalry was on its last legs. Then suddenly this spring there was talk of UConn moving to the Big East. Around the same time was the announcement of a home and home series with UConn starting next season, and just like that there was a rekindling of old flames. I know that personally I’m looking forward to the opportunity to get the awful taste of that second round loss to the Huskies in the 2014 NCAAs out of my mouth. Knowing that we’re about to get two straight seasons of this rivalry already has it on an upward trend, but if the Huskies came back to the Big East it would push this one way up the list. UCAN’T!
#8 - Any Big 5 Game At The Palestra
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 3-0
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 16.6 points
- Last Game: 12/6/2016, NOVA 89 - LAS 79
I know I just said that the Big 5 was in the Fading Rivals section already, but I want to make an exception for those played at the Palestra. There’s a reason that place is called the “Cathedral of College Basketball”, and if you’ve never been I highly recommend it. Every game in that building has an energy that is rarely reached at the Pavillion, and that will energize an underdog team every single time. The stats agere, because Nova’s Big 5 games have been an average of 5 points closer in the Palestra than anywhere else. In fact, their last game there against LaSalle was the closest final score in any Big 5 game the past 4 seasons. But when your closest game in 4 years is still in double digits, it’s hard to put these classic rivalries any higher on the list.
#7 - North Carolina Tar Heels
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 1-0
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 3 points
- Last Game: 4/4/2016, NOVA 77 - UNC 74
I know there are some of you questioning me putting UNC on this list, and others that are outraged that they got the nod over the Palestra, but hear me out on this. Villanova’s last four games against the Tar Heels have all come in the NCAA tournament during the Jay Wright era, and the 2016 National Championship was Villanova’s first W. These games have been so exciting and on such a huge stage (twice in the Final Four) that’s it’s hard not to see this as a rivalry on some level. Considering that Villanova fans want to be thought of in the same “elite of the elites” category as UNC, and that beating them has put the program closer to that status than ever before, I’d have to say I’d be pretty excited the next time we play them. In fact, the only thing keeping this rivalry out of the Top 5 is the fact that we haven’t seen them in the regular season since the 1990’s.
#6 - Providence Friars
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 9-1
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 10.2 points
- Last Game: 2/1/2017, NOVA 66 - PROV 57
Not only is Ed Cooley a super likable guy, he’s a REALLY good basketball coach. He’s proven that he can win with NBA talent and without, but he hasn’t had much luck against Jay Wright since conference realignment. Still, half of Providence’s last ten games against Nova have been single digit margin’s of victory, including their OT win at the Wells Fargo center in 2016. This is a rivalry poised to climb the ranks, especially this season, but for now it’s just outside the Top 5.
#5 - Creighton Bluejays
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 7-2
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 6.1 points
- Last Game: 3/11/2017, NOVA 74 - CREI 60
A great rivalry comes from painful losses, glorious wins, and big stages. Villanova and Creighton have had all three. I don’t think anyone has forgotten the back to back 20 point drubbings Dougie McBuckets handed the ‘Cats back in 2014. But those are in the past now, especially when Nova beat the Bluejays in a battle of Top 10 teams that was nationally televised on New Year’s Eve. And then of course there was their last meeting where Nova won the Big East Tournament Title in Maddison Square Garden. Things have definitely swung in Nova’s direction recently, but if these two keep meeting on big stages, the games will still be just as exciting.
#4 - Georgetown Hoyas
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 8-1
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 9.8 points
- Last Game: 3/4/2017, NOVA 81 - GTOWN 55
If the 26 point blow out at Georgetown to close out the regular seasons last year wasn’t enough of a hint, this rivalry has been pretty one sided recently. But this IS Georgetown, and any game of them will bring up memories of the 1985 Championship. That alone is enough to build the hype and excitement for these games. Now with Patrick Ewing at the helm, that nostalgia is going to be doubled. Hopefully Ewing can make Georgetown relevant again on the national stage, but you know, not too relevant.
#3 - Xavier Muskateers
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 8-1
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 15.2 points
- Last Game: 2/11/2017, NOVA 73 - XAV 57
Despite making the Top 3, some of you may have expected to see Xavier higher on this list. I know I did. Xavier’s been hyped as the team that could knock Villanova off the top of the Big East for the past three seasons. So there’s still been excitement in the build up to the games, but outside of their lone victory in 2016, Xavier hasn’t shown up in these games. That’s especially true at Villanova, where the Cats have won by an average of 23 points over the past four seasons. Xavier will probably be poised as the Big East’s second best team again this season, and hopefully they can make this year’s games a little closer than they’ve been in the past.
#2 - Butler Bulldogs
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 6-2
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 4.5 points
- Last Game: 2/22/17, NOVA 58 - BUT 66
The most exciting rivalries are the ones where going into the game either team could win. For a while, Villanova fans didn’t really view their conference opponents from the Midwest that way. Well you can throw that notion out the window now that the Bulldogs swept the Wildcats in 2017. This match-up has also produced the closest games of any of the other rivalries with 5 of their last 7 games finishing with an 8 point margin or less. Nova and its fans should have this one circled on the calendar for next seasons, and that’s always a great indicator of how exciting a rivalry is.
#1 - Seton Hall Pirates
- Nova’s Record (Last 4 Seasons): 8-3
- Average Margin of Victory (Last 4 Seasons): 10.5 points
- Last Game: 3/10/2017, NOVA 55 - SHALL 53
This rivalry has checked off every single box imaginable in the past four seasons. Can either team win? Seton Hall has beaten Villanova more than any other team during that stretch. Check. Do they play close games on a big stage? See Villanova’s two point victory in last year’s Big East Tournament Semi-Final Game last year. Double Check. But it’s the individual efforts that make this the most exciting rivalry Villanova has today.
First off, if you want to have an all-time rivalry, you have to have a villain that fans can root against. Enter Kevin Williard, Head Coach of the Pirates. He coaches his teams to play so tough and physical that some might claim it’s borderline dirty, but I think is just good old Big East basketball. He also seems to have an excuse every time his team doesn’t play well. Willard is just the kind of coach you love to see your team beat (see this year’s BET) and hate to see your team lose to (see last year’s BET). To his credit though, I’ve never heard a coach talk with more reverence or respect about Villanova players, specifically Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, than Willard.
And beyond the coaches, you have the players and moments that define this rivalry. Some of them are great plays like Josh Hart’s put back last season or Sterling Gibb’s buzzer beater in 2014. Other’s are more passionate moments like when Gibbs punched Arcidiacono, or when Hart consoled Delgado.
These rivalries, especially the emotional moments, bring a fan base closer to its team. They also inspire new fans to join the Nova Nation, and will be the back bone of stories we tell each other for years to come. If all of this isn’t enough to get you excited every time you see Villanova play Seton Hall, or any rival for that matter, then I don’t know what will. IS IT NOVEMBER YET!?
Statistics for this article were researched at www.sports-reference.com . Please share your favorite rivalries, stories, and other thoughts on Villanova Basketball in the comments below. Thanks for reading!