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Ranking Villanova Basketball’s 2018-19 Non-Conference Opponents

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Who will be Villanova’s biggest competition outside of the Big East next season?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four-Villanova vs Kansas Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova’s 2018-19 schedule isn’t 100% complete yet, but it’s getting close. As of this week we now know all of Villanova’s non-conference opponents for the 2018-19 season (excluding exhibition games) and dates, plus the Blue/White Scrimmage. You can continue following here for all updates on next year’s schedule.

So now that we know who Nova will be playing, what does that tell us about the upcoming season? First off, it’s a good non-con schedule. It could be tougher for sure, with only two guaranteed games coming against projected Top 25 teams in a year when the Big East is expected to have fewer ranked teams. But there is potential for some additional quality wins in likely opponents at the AdvoCare Invitational, and there are a few teams that have potential to make a jump this season. The good news is that’s exactly the kind of schedule you want to start the year when you have a young team that will be better come tournament time than they will when January starts.

But forget the schedule as a whole for now, because today we’re going to rank all 13 of Villanova’s non-conference games. This isn’t a ranking of how good the teams are, but more of a “gut feeling” ranking of these games. It’s a combination of how important they are to the fan base and how good they’ll look on Nova’s resume at the end of the season. We start at the bottom.

#13: Home vs Morgan State (11/6/2018)

Conference: MEAC | Nova Record: N/A | 17-18 Record: 14-16 | 17-18 KenPom: 324th

For as great as Villanova has been over the last five seasons, Morgan State has been at the opposite end of the spectrum. And next season isn’t looking any better. After five straight losing seasons, the Bears leading scorer who left after his sophomore season and wasn’t picked in the NBA Draft. Their only other double digit scorer graduated, so they come into the season missing more than half of last year’s offense.

While Villanova and Morgan State have never faced off on the hardwood before, the two schools have played each other in other sports including football and softball in recent years. While it’s nice that the schools have been able find multiple sports in which they can be competitive, this isn’t one of them. In fact, if I could trade one game in for an upgrade this would be it. Good news is it’ll be the opening game of the season, and this should be a guaranteed win to start the year.

#12: Home vs Furman (11/17/2018)

Conference: Southern | Nova Record: 0-1 | 17-18 Record: 23-10 | 17-18 KenPom: 95th

Furman has been on a roll lately as far as mid/low-majors go. They’ve posted back to back 23 win seasons, and last season came within 5 points of taking down SEC Champ Tennessee on the road. That said, the team lost its three leading scorers to graduation and will need to replace nearly half of their offense.

This game is actually part of the AdvoCare Invitational as the fourth “bonus” game. However it will be a home game for Nova, instead of the neutral court in Orlando like the rest of the AdvoCare games. While Furman did win the only game between these schools back in 1989, Villanova will be the heavy favorites this time around. It won’t be nearly the pushover matchup that Morgan State will be, but this should still be looked at as an easy win that Nova treats as a learning experience more than a competitive game.

#11: Away vs Penn (12/11/2018)

Conference: Ivy | Nova Record: 47-17 | 17-18 Record: 24-9 | 17-18 KenPom: 125th

This game has two things going for it. First, it’s one of two games Villanova will play at the Palestra this season. If you haven’t been, I can’t recommend it enough. The history, the atmosphere, it really is one of the best places I’ve ever watched a basketball game. Second, it’s an away game (which means something for tournament seeding) and a Big 5 game (which means something for Philadelphia).

But after that, there’s not a whole lot to get excited about in this one. The biggest news out of Penn lately has been the possible recruiting violations that were recently reported where a former coach took a bribe to pretend to recruit a kid so he could get into the school. Even when Penn cheats it’s for academics, not basketball. Chalk this one up for a win and a good experience for the new guys on the team.

#10: Neutral vs Canisius (11/22/2018)

Conference: MAAC | Nova Record: 20-9 | 17-18 Record: 21-12 | 17-18 KenPom: 131st

The Golden Griffins are on the rise, coming off their best season in over a decade. They’ve got a young dynamic backcourt, an up and coming coach, and they beat the Wildcats the last time the two played on a neutral court... in 1974. All that said, those aren’t the reasons to get excited for this game.

The big reason is that this will be a nationally televised game on ESPN (or ESPN2) on Thanksgiving Day. It’s taking place on Disney property (ESPN’s parent company) and it’s one of just a handful of times the network will get the defending National Champs all season. This is also a game that works in Nova’s favor when it comes to seeding the NCAA Tournament. Because it’s a neutral court game, it will weigh more heavily than if it was a home game. Between the exposure and boost to Quadrant Value in seeding, this game should result in a valuable W for Villanova.

#9: Home vs Temple (12/5/2018)

Conference: AAC | Nova Record: 48-42 | 17-18 Record: 17-16 | 17-18 KenPom: 86th

There’s plenty of reasons for Temple to make the Top 10 on this list. Quinton Rose is back to lead the Owls, it’s a Big 5 rivalry game, and this game tends to take place around the time of winter break, which might be the only time you can get tickets to the renovated Pavilion this season.

But the big reason not to miss this game is that it will likely be the last time Big 5 great Fran Dunphy coaches against Villanova. In one of the more awkward breakups the NCAA has seen, Temple announced at the end of last year that this would be Dunphy’s final season coaching the Owls before his assistant and Temple alum Aaron McKie takes over the following year. Dunphy will have spent all 30 of his years coaching as a part of the Big 5 with both Penn and Temple. While he very well could continue his coaching career elsewhere, this is probably the end of his Big 5 career.

#8: Home vs Quinnipiac (11/11/2018)

Conference: MAAC | Nova Record: N/A | 17-18 Record: 12-21 | 17-18 KenPom: 280th

Normally a team that finished well under .500 and was ranked in the low 200’s on KenPom wouldn’t get out of the bottom two spots on a list like this. But this is certainly an extenuating circumstance. In his second season as the Bobcats head coach, Baker Dunleavy is returning to his alma matter where he both played and coached for over a decade.

Quinnipiac certainly hit some rough patches last season, as their record shows. But they finished strong by upsetting Canisius during their run to the semi-final of the MAAC Tournament. Villanova won’t get much help in the Quad system with this game, but I doubt you’ll hear anyone complaining about Jay reaching out to one of the programs most beloved players and coaches.

#7: Away vs La Salle (12/1/2018)

Conference: A10 | Nova Record: 38-27 | 17-18 Record: 13-19 | 17-18 KenPom: 156th

If I was forced to choose one opponent that could end Villanova’s undefeated streak in the Big 5 this season, La Salle would be it. No not because they have a better team or players this season, because they don’t. What they do have is a better coach and a better venue.

Ashley Howard, Villanova Associate Head Coach and lead recruiter is now starting his first season as a Head Coach with the Explorers. He knows Villanova’s current and incoming players better than anyone the Wildcats will face this season, and he’s going to try to use that to pull the upset. Another advantage he’ll have is playing at the Palestra. The last time these two teams faced off there LaSalle brought a raucous crowd that helped keep the Explorers in the game, even leading at times, before Villanova pulled away in the final minutes. This should be another exciting game, even if the Wildcats are heavy favorites.

#6: Neutral vs Memphis/OKST (11/23/2018)

Memphis - Conference: AAC | Nova Record: 8-4 | 17-18 Record: 21-13 | 17-18 KenPom: 161st

OKST - Conference: Big XII | Nova Record: 0-1 | 17-18 Record: 21-15 | 17-18 KenPom: 59th

I’ll say this for ESPN, they know how to build a showcase event. Last season’s Battle 4 Atlantis should have been a great test for the eventual National Champions, but Purdue and Arizona didn’t hold up their ends. This season Villanova should have another great shot at two high profile games, and the first could be against Memphis.

The Tigers are still rebuilding, but the hype train is gaining momentum behind new head coach and local legend Penny Hardaway. The school basically pushed Tubby Smith out the door in order to bring their most famous basketball alumn in as head coach. Hardaway has had great success coaching at the high school and AAU level, and that’s led to high expectations for him as a recruiter. Villanova will be an early test for him, but the Wildcats should still be solid favorites to keep their November winning streak alive.

Of course, Memphis will still need to get past Oklahoma State in the first round. The Cowboys were widely considered to be the best team not to make the NCAA tournament last season, but they’ve lost a lot heading into this season. If they do get by Memphis in the first round, it’ll be tough for them to overcome Villanova.

#5: Home vs St. Joe’s (12/8/2018)

Conference: A10 | Nova Record: 49-25 | 17-18 Record: 16-16 | 17-18 KenPom: 116th

There’s one reason, and one reason only, that the St. Joe’s game makes the Top 5 on this list: I love watching Villanova crush the hawk. Last season Villanova set a new school record for three pointers made in this game. I’ll be happy with any double digit win that continues to cement Nova’s dominance in this “rivalry”.

#4: Neutral vs UConn (12/22/2018)

Conference: AAC | Nova Record: 34-31 | 17-18 Record: 14-18 | 17-18 KenPom: 179th

Villanova’s former Big East rival is on the schedule again this year as part of a three year, three game series. This year’s game will take place in Madison Square Garden and will feature another new coach on the opposing sideline.

Dan Hurley takes over for UConn after they unceremoniously kicked Kevin Ollie out and are now in dispute over how much money he’s owed. Hopefully that won’t still be looming over the program in December, because between Hurley and returning star Jalen Adams the Huskies could make some noise this season. While they’re probably not good enough to threaten Villanova yet, they could put together a season that would make this a key victory on the Wildcat’s resume come tournament time

#3: Neutral vs FSU/LSU/UAB/Charleston (11/25/2018)

FSU - Conference: ACC | Nova Record: 1-0 | 17-18 Record: 23-12 | 17-18 KenPom: 27th

LSU - Conference: SEC | Nova Record: 3-2 | 17-18 Record: 18-15 | 17-18 KenPom: 66th

Let’s be clear, if this game isn’t against FSU or LSU in the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational it falls way down the list. That said, there’s a very slim chance that neither of those teams makes their way to the finals where they’ll likely play the defending Champions.

Florida State is coming off an impressive Elite 8 run, and should have enough returning talent to be a threat in the tournament again. Their experience and athleticism will be the biggest obstacles for Villanova to overcome, but the Wildcats should be favorites to win their 6th consecutive early season tournament. But possibly more importantly, it’s a chance to see who got the better Albany grad transfer as Nova’s Joe Cremo could go head to head with his former roomate, FSU’s David Nichols.

LSU might actually be the more talented team of Nova’s possible opponents, but they’re considerably younger. They’ll be led by sophomore stud Tremont Waters, and bolstered by a Top 3 recruiting class of incoming freshman. Villanova has done well against young SEC teams in recent years, coming from behind to beat Tennessee in last year’s Battle 4 Atlantis. I’d expect the Wildcats to come away with another early season title here no matter who their opponent is.

#2: Home vs Michigan (11/14/2018)

Conference: Big 10 | Nova Record: 4-1 | 17-18 Record: 33-8 | 17-18 KenPom: 7th

This may be Villanova’s second biggest game of the entire season, and it comes basically one week into the schedule. That’s not a lot of time when only two guys on the team will be reprising the roles they had last season. The good news is that the game will be at home, and Michigan is also dealing with losing several of its key players from last year as well.

But of course the reason this game is so high on the list is because it’s the rematch of last year’s National Championship. This Villanova team will be very different form the one that rolled over the Wolverines last season, but they should still be the favorites given home court advantage and preseason rankings. I’m not saying this isn’t a game Nova can’t lose, John Beilein won his last road game against the Wildcats. Either way it’s one of the best games on the schedule for next season.

#1: Away vs Kansas (12/15/2018)

Conference: Big XII | Nova Record: 4-3 | 17-18 Record: 31-8 | 17-18 KenPom: 9th

Villanova has been a bit of a darling for Kenpom.com over the last few seasons. In fact, for the last two seasons they’ve been favored to win every game they played. That streak should come to an end this season when the Wildcats travel to Lawrence, KS to play what should be a Top 3 Kansas team that’s loaded with experience and talent.

I’m not saying Villanova can’t win this game. They’ll likely start the year as a Top 10 team, which means you can play with anyone in the country and at least give them a game. But this will be on the road in one of the hardest arenas for opposing teams to win against arguably the best team in the country. We’ll all be pulling for a victory, but a loss to this team wouldn’t be anything to hang your head about. Then again, an early season road win against a championship contender will have a lot of people talking repeat for the Wildcats. Either way, we still have next year’s game against them at home. That’s good scheduling!