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Villanova Basketball: Five Games to Watch in 2017-18

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The schedule is out and here are some games to take special note of.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs Villanova Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats unveiled the official 2017-18 schedule around noon on Tuesday. Upon gazing at the list, here are five games to circle on your calendars:


Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Where: Atlantis Resort (Nassau, Bahamas)
When: November 22, 2017, at 2:30 p.m. ET
Coverage: ESPN Networks

Villanova tips off the 2017 Battle 4 Atlantis tournament against Western Kentucky. The tournament field is a pretty solid one and the potential opponents that lie ahead are compelling, but for now, this is a guaranteed matchup. While it's an opening round game, and we haven't gotten to the creme of the crop waiting on the other side of the bracket, this is still slated to be a great game and a great re-introduction for the Wildcats to the tournament--which put the program back into the Top 25 polls back in 2013. Five-star freshman and McDonald's All-American Mitchell Robinson seems to be playing for the Hilltoppers this season, after what has been a wild offseason surrounding him and the program. Robinson, a 6-11 traditional back-to-basket center, will provide for an intriguing matchup and test for Villanova's Omari Spellman. The battle in the frontcourt should be an exciting one, especially with their contrasting styles of play. Aside from Robinson, the Hilltoppers retain their top scorer and rebounder from last year, Justin Johnson, who almost left to join the football team as a tight end. Even if Robinson did leave the team, Western Kentucky had one of its best incoming classes in years, with consensus four-star shooting guard Josh Anderson and Virginia-transfer Darius Thompson joining the team.

Gonzaga Bulldogs

Where: Madison Square Garden (New York, N.Y.)
When: December 5, 2017, at 7 p.m. ET
Coverage: ESPN

A matchup between two Catholic schools that appeared in National Championship Games in the last two years. Gonzaga will be without a few of its key pieces from the run to the championship from a year ago, most notably four of its top five leading scorers which include the leading man, Nigel Williams-Goss, the winningest college basketball player in Przemek Karnowski, graduate transfer Jordan Mathews, and NBA Lottery Pick Zach Collins. Despite this, expect Gonzaga to still be pretty solid, because it always finds a way to be good. Since head coach Mark Few took over the job in 1999, the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament every year since, reaching at least the Sweet 16 in seven of those years. So, who's left? The Bulldogs bring back Johnathan Williams, Josh Perkins, and Silas Melson--a trio of players that have gotten a lot of playing time in the Gonzaga rotation. These three will be instrumental in carrying on the team's success and maintaining a high-intensity defense. While the names and players change, the Bulldogs have had great defensive numbers each year, peaking last season with the No. 1 most efficient defense according to KenPom. The Bulldogs might not be No. 1 this year, but they should definitely still be up there with one of the top defensive teams around college basketball. In the last decade, Gonzaga was ranked in the top 100 by KenPom in terms of defensive efficiency and in eight of those years, it was top 50.

Butler Bulldogs

Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis, Ind.)
When: December 30, 2017, at 4 p.m. ET
Coverage: CBS

Villanova and Butler were headed on a crash course at the Big East Tournament finals last season, but Xavier--and then Creighton--had other plans. Instead, the Wildcats will get to settle the score this year, when the two teams meet for the first time in the new campaign on Dec. 30. Butler swept Villanova in both meetings, becoming the first team since the Doug McDermott-led Creighton Bluejays to beat Villanova in both regular season games. The Bulldogs have graduated four key players since then and welcome a new head coach in LaVall Jordan. Jordan, a Butler alumnus, takes over for Chris Holtmann, who left for Ohio State. While there will be some changes to the rotation and at head coach, the Bulldogs bring back two-time second team All-Big East selection Kelan Martin, who might be able to land himself in the conversation for Big East Player of the Year. Martin led the 'Dogs in scoring and rebounding last season and truly revitalized himself after being demoted to a sixth man role. They also retain Kamar Baldwin, a two-way threat at guard. He was a pest against Villanova and even had the game-clinching steal and score on Josh Hart to win the first meeting at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Last season, Baldwin played his way into the starting lineup and became a Big East All-Freshman unanimous pick. He and Martin will be the backbone of this Butler squad that accommodates some new faces.

Connecticut Huskies

Where: XL Center (Hartford, Conn.)
When: January 20, 2018, at 12 p.m. ET
Coverage: TBA

There has been a few rumblings about UConn wanting to rejoin the Big East, and while nothing has come of it, this will be the first part of a three-game series between the Wildcats and the Huskies. It's also a bit of a homecoming of sorts for Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, both of whom played some of their high school ball at nearby St. Thomas More. This is the first time both teams will face each other since the 2014 NCAA Tournament Round of 32, and it's a rematch four years in the making. Not one player from that game is still around--on either team--but it should still be a good game between former Big East foes. Jalen Adams is back to lead the Huskies. The junior point guard accounted for a huge part of UConn's scoring production, averaging a team-high 14.4 points and 6.1 assists. He should be the focal point of the Huskies' game with Rodney Purvis graduated. Also keep an eye out for VCU transfer Terry Larrier and redshirt freshman Alterique Gilbert. Larrier enjoyed a nice start to the season before it was cut short by an ACL injury. His debut wasn't what he expected, but he's getting another chance now. Gilbert was getting a good amount of minutes as a true freshman last season, before his season also ended preemptively due to a shoulder injury. These guys should be great complimentary pieces for Adams in this guard-heavy system.

Seton Hall Pirates

Where: Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia, Pa.)
When: February 4, 2018, at 12 p.m. ET
Coverage: FOX

Last season marked the first time, since the Big East realigned, that Seton Hall was unable to defeat Villanova. Two blowout victories and a nailbiter at the Big East Tournament semifinals saw the Pirates emerging empty-handed for the first time against the 'Cats. Prior to that, Seton Hall had been the only team to beat Villanova at least once in every season since 2013. Villanova-Seton Hall has provided some great games since the conference transformed and this season should be no different. The two will meet up again amidst what looks like might be a tough month of February for the 'Cats. The Pirates' seniors, which has been the core group of this team for the last few years, are aiming to make some noise in their final campaign. Big East Player of the Year contender and double-double machine Angel Delgado is back, and his presence places Seton Hall in the conference title conversation. Also back in action are Khadeen Carrington--the Pirates' leading scorer from last season--and Desi Rodriguez, who averaged 15.7 points per game last year. This senior trio accounted for 65 percent of Seton Hall's scoring production and combine that with what should be an improved season for sophomore Myles Powell, and you'll get another exciting clash between the Wildcats and Pirates.