**Editors Note: The Michigan vs Villanova game, part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games, has been scheduled for Wednesday, 11/14/2018.**
Villanova fans are still basking in the glow of the team’s 2018 National Championship. But while we’re still debating 2016 vs 2018 and waiting on NBA Draft decisions, May is usually the time when thoughts start to turn to the next season. There are a number of questions that need to be addressed: Who’s coming back? Who’s going to earn playing time? Who’s getting the next great Gus Johnson nickname?
Today we’ll ignore the “who” questions and move on to the “what”. As in, “What’s Villanova’s path to defending their National Championship?” It’s a question that started to take shape this past season with a number of non-conference opponent announcements, but not all of the pieces are in place just yet. As of right now, here’s what we know about next season’s opponents.
Villanova’s 2018-19 Schedule
|11/11/2018||vs. Quinnipiac||Home||Likely first game of the season|
|11/14/2018||vs. Michigan||Home||Gavitt Tipoff Games|
|11/22/2018||Advocare Inv.||Neutral (HP Field House, Orlando, FL)||Bracket to be released this summer|
|11/23/2018||Advocare Inv.||Neutral (HP Field House, Orlando, FL)||Bracket to be released this summer|
|11/25/2018||Advocare Inv.||Neutral (HP Field House, Orlando, FL)||Bracket to be released this summer|
|12/8/2018||vs. St. Joe's||Home||Big 5|
|12/15/2018||at Kansas||Away||First meeting of 2 year head to head|
|12/22/2018||vs. Uconn||Neutral (Madison Square Garden, NYC, NY)||Second meeting of 3 year series|
|Unknown||vs. Temple||Home||Big 5|
|Unknown||at La Salle||Away||Big 5|
|Unknown||at Penn||Away||Big 5|
|Unknown||Butler||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Creighton||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||DePaul||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Georgetown||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Marquette||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Providence||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Seton Hall||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||St. John's||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Xavier||Home and Away||Big East|
|Unknown||Unknown||Unknown||Villanova has two open games in the schedule|
Kansas and UConn headline the known schedule
While Villanova won’t officially release their schedule for a few months, there are a number of games that are at least partially known through connected sources or other official releases. So far, four games have been completely disclosed: Quinnipiac, St. Joe’s, Kansas, and UConn.
John Rothstein was the source for both the Quinnipiac and St. Joe’s dates. The game against the Bobcats will be a homecoming for former Villanova player/assistant coach Baker Dunleavy. While not confirmed, it could also be the first regular season game played at the newly renovated Finneran Pavilion. The St. Joe’s game will also likely be played on campus as it’s Villanova’s turn to host the Holy War.
The biggest game of the season and what could be a meeting of Top 5 teams will take place in December when Villanova travels to Kansas in the first game of a home and home series. For Nova basketball fans, this will be a great opportunity to visit one of the most impressive venues in the sport, Allen Fieldhouse. “The Phog” or “Phog Allen” as it’s more commonly called is one of the more historic arenas in college sports, and is also home to the original documented rules of basketball by the sports inventor and first coach of Kansas, Dr. James Naismith. Between the national relevance of the teams involved and the fabled setting, this may be a game that’s worth the trip if you can make it.
The other noteworthy game on the schedule to this point comes against UConn at Madison Square Garden in the middle of a three year series between the schools. Last season, Villanova handily defeated the Huskies 81-61 in Connecticut. While Nova will likely be favorites again, this game got a new twist when UConn hired a new head coach this offseason in Dan Hurley. Coming off an NCAA tournament berth with Rhode Island, Hurley was one of the most sought after coaches this offseason. Villanova will be the biggest name on UConn’s non-conference schedule this season, and this is one of the few teams that could rival the Villanova faithful at The Garden. It should be a hot ticket if you’ll be in the New York area.
The Advocare Invitational and Gavitt Tipoff Games
I recently posted an update on the 2018 Advocare Invitational, highlighting the changes and updates since this year’s field was announced. Basically, Villanova will be the headliner with LSU and Florida State being the main contenders. Penny Hardaway’s Memphis Tigers could also make a splash. We’ll have a better idea of who the Wildcats will be facing when the bracket is released this summer. No matter who it is, Nova will be focused on winning their sixth consecutive early season tournament.
**Editors Note: Late the night before this posted it was announced that Villanova will host Michigan for this year’s Gavitt Games. We left this section in because... I called it!**
The Gavitt Tipoff Games present the opportunity for more intriguing matchup possibilities, but there are no guarantees there. The series between the Big Ten and the Big East is entering its fourth season in which the conferences pit eight teams each against each other. Over the eight year span that the games are scheduled each Big East team will participate six times, while each Big Ten team participates four times. Villanova played in 2015 vs. Nebraska and 2016 at Purdue, winning both before sitting out of the rotation last year.
It would be highly unlikely for Villanova to sit out a second year in a row, especially as the reigning National Champions. This could also be a prime showcase for Villanova’s renovated on-campus stadium, as the last time they played in the games they were on the road at Purdue. So if we assume that Villanova will participate and will play at home, then we can start to narrow down some of the opponents they could face.
Maryland has already played three of their four games in the series, so they’ll likely sit out this year. Wisconsin and Northwestern both played the last two seasons, so they would also be candidates to take a break in the rotation. Minnesota, Purdue, Indiana, Rutgers, and Nebraska all played on the road in their last Gavitt Games, so if we assume their next contests would come at home we can eliminate them as well. And this spring it leaked that Georgetown and Illinois will be squaring off in the games, so there’s another team gone. That leaves Villanova with five potential opponents: Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, and Iowa.
The big name on Nova Nation’s wish list seems to be Michigan State. The Spartans are the only team in the series that haven’t played yet due to their participation in the Champions Classic with Duke, Kentucky, and Kansas. That event has now been moved up a week and many believe this will be the year that MSU finally gets involved with the Gavitt Games. However, I don’t think Sparty will be coming to Philadelphia this season. They already have Kansas on their schedule, they’re participating in the Las Vegas Invitational with UNC, Texas, and UCLA, they have a game in the Big Ten/ACC challenge, and they play at Florida to close out December. My guess is they’ll host a lower end Big East team so that they don’t over extend themselves like they did a few years back.
Michigan vs. Villanova would likely be the headliner of the series if the Wolverines came to the Mainline. It’s not often that the college basketball world gets a Championship rematch the following season, let alone in the first few weeks. Michigan is being projected as a Top 20 team next year, and would be a welcome addition the the Wildcat schedule.
Ohio State and Penn State are both losing their best players and neither will likely enter the season in the Top 25. However, each would present an interesting storyline for the Wildcats. Chris Holtmann has a multi-game winning streak going against Jay Wright from when he swept Villanova as Butler’s head coach. I’m sure that doesn’t sit well with anyone on at Nova. A game with Penn State would give Jay three matchups with former associate head coaches, each from one of his three Final Four teams. Talk about a ton of nostalgia jam packed into a single season!
Lastly, we have the Iowa Hawkeys. Iowa isn’t necessarily a bad team, but they would do more harm than good to Villanova’s schedule come tourney time. At least with Ohio State and Penn State there’s something for fans to gravitate to, but this would surely be a disappointment all around. The Gavitt Games really lacked any marquee battles last season, and hopefully they don’t repeat that mistake a second time. We should find out soon as the games have traditionally been announced by the end of May.
The Big 5
As they have the last five seasons, Villanova will likely sweep the Big 5 series again. But there are still some fun things to look forward to in the 2018-19 season iteration of this Philadelphia tradition. First, Jay Wright will play another former assistant when he takes on La Salle and their first year head coach Ashley Howard. Howard was the associate head coach during Villanova’s 2018 title run, and played a big part with bringing in and developing a lot of the players that made the championship possible.
In keeping with next year’s theme of great venues, Villanova will again travel to the historic Palestra when they take on Penn this season. Jay has said in several interviews that he enjoys walking the team around the building and helping the new guys understand the history and tradition that comes with the Big 5. If you haven’t been, I highly suggest you see at least one game there. It’s really something.
Finally, Villanova will host Temple in what may be a somber night for fans of the city series. Depending on scheduling, it could mark the end of Fran Dunphy’s Big 5 career. Temple has announced that next season will be Dunphy’s last with the school. It will be his 30th season as a Big 5 coach (17 with Penn, 13 with Temple), and it could be his last year coaching if he chooses to retire or move into the booth. Either way, he’s been a great ambassador to college basketball and the city of Philadelphia and we all get to see him work the sidelines at least one more time.
The Big East
The Big East’s true round robin home and home format is still the best in college basketball. Only the Big 12 and the Big East have every team play each other twice, and it’s probably no coincidence that those two have finished in KenPom’s Top 3 conference rankings in each of the last four seasons. The Big East may have lost a number of big names after this past season, but they’ve also dominated the transfer market this off-season. Villanova is no exception after the commitment of one of the best grad transfers in Joe Cremo.
The success of the Big East and Big 12 may be a reason that more of the Power Conferences are either considering or pulling the trigger on moving to a 20 game conference schedule. While that wouldn’t make sense for the Big East’s current configuration, it would open the door for them to add another school and maintain the same schedule format. Some names that have been suggested are UConn, Gonzaga, and Wichita State, but nothing concrete seems to be in the works yet.
There are some Big East scheduling trends that I think are good for the league and Villanova. In four of the last five seasons, the Wildcats have ended the regular season against Georgetown. I’d hope that rivalry becomes a permanent fixture to close out Big East play. Nova has also played DePaul to open each of the past two seasons, a trend I’m completely indifferent about. Lastly, the former New Year’s Eve marathon has been moved over to Martin Luther King Day. I’m all for the move as NYE tends to get filled up with parties and football. It’s a great showcase for the league, and I think it gets more eyes this way.
The two unknown games
Villanova can have up to two more games in addition to what we’ve speculated on already for next season. However, one of those games would need to be a part of the Advocare Invitational. This is similar to how Nicholls State was technically part of the Battle 4 Atlantis last season, even though it was played at Villanova and had no impact on seeding or advancement for the rest of the tournament. It’s almost sure to be another “cupcake” game that could take place before or after the tournament.
The other game probably won’t be a big name, as it may be a little late in the scheduling cycle to find a team like that. However, future seasons may give Villanova the opportunity to not only add an additional quality game, but retain its “Big 12 Champion” status. According to a report yesterday, the Big East and Big 12 are in talks to set up a conference challenge, similar to the arrangement of the Gavitt Tipoff Games. However, this agreement would have the potential to be a true challenge in which every member of both conferences participates each season.
The move is supposedly spurred by the larger conferences moving to 20 game regular season schedules. By playing each other, the Big East and Big 12 ensure an additional quality game without having to expand their membership or changing their current regular season home and home format. It’s uncertain when an agreement like this would begin, but it would certainly be too late to implement for 2018-19.
Speaking of next season, my guess is the final game comes down to the return of Donte DiVincenzo and/or Omari Spellman. If both are back, I could see Wright adding another quality team, possibly as a home and home series, to bulk up next year’s tournament resume. If neither returns, he may need the extra game against lower level competition as a learning experience for his young team. Either way, I trust that Jay will put together the schedule that best prepares his team for the Big East regular season and the NCAA tournament.
I mentioned earlier that Chris Holtmann holds an active winning streak over Jay Wright. He’s actually one of only five active coaches that are currently on a multi-game winning streak against Jay Wright since he arrived at Villanova. My question to you: Who are the other four?
Put your guess in the comments below, and I’ll post the answers (blacked out in case you’re still guessing) in the comments later today with the handle of the first person to guess all four correct. Don’t worry, I’m not just leaving you to blindly guess. Here are some hints:
Coach 1: The only one of the four that’s still coaching at the same school where he last beat Wright. Jay is 0 for his last 3 against this coach.
Coach 2: A current “Power 5” conference (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, PAC 12, SEC) coach that wasn’t in those conferences when he beat Wright in back to back seasons. Jay is 0 for his last 2 against this coach.
Coach 3: A former Big East coach that has beaten Jay more consecutive times than any other coach since Wright came to Villanova. Jay is 0 for his last 6 against this coach.
Coach 4: Another former Big East coach who has now coached at three schools in four conferences. Jay is 0 for his last 2 against this coach.
Final Hint: Four of the five coaches, including Holtmann, took their current teams to the NCAA Tournament in 2018. Heck, they’d have to be pretty good to beat Jay Wright!