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Ranking Villanova’s 2014 nonconference matchups

The Wildcats return with many of the players that lead last year’s team to the Big East regular season title. Let’s see what lies ahead for Villanova outside of the conference.

Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova comes into the 2014-15 season as the likely favorites in the Big East Conference. They have brought back many of their top performers from last year's squad, including juniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu along with seniors JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard.

If this team wants to repeat they will need to have a solid showing outside of conference. Jay Wright's bunch will be playing with a chip on their shoulders this season due to the way their season ended a year ago. Here is what faces Nova.

1. Syracuse Orange (December 20; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Old Big East fans will be all over this game as the Orange and Wildcats finish their home-and-home series that they began last season. Syracuse won up at the Carrier Dome last year, but by the end of the season really struggled in the ACC and in the NCAA Tournament.

Nova knows Coach Jim Boehiem's patented 2-3 zone quite well, which means the Wildcats will be taking many jump shots in this one. Last year, Nova shot 32 percent from 3-point land and 63 percent overall in the 78-62 loss. They seemed worn out by the Orange as they were outscored by 12 in the second half. This time the size of the 'Cuse will try to expose a Wildcat defense that was great for the majority of last season. They will be without point guard Tyler Ennis, but should be slight favorites on the road. This rivalry game is always entertaining and is expected to be a tight one this time too.

2. Michigan Wolverines/Oregon Ducks (November 25; Brooklyn, New York)

It does not matter which team the Wildcats will face in this one because this will be a tough game regardless. Michigan brings their prized recruit Kameron Chatman to the Barclays Center and if they play Villanova, the game will have a "young versus old" kind of feel. This, of course, would be nothing new for the Wolverines so expect it to be tight game down the stretch.

If Oregon defeats Michigan, which is certainly possible, they could give the Wildcats a run for their money as well. Freshman point JaQuan Lyle could really take advantage of Nova's guards just like Shabazz Napier did when he knocked the Wildcats out of The Big Dance last season. Is Lyle as talented as Napier? No, but if he expose the lack of defense Nova has shown at that position they could win this game. If they cannot contain the Ducks recruit Nova could stumble, but either way they will be favored in this one because of the team's experience.

3. Virginia Commonwealth Rams (November 24; Brooklyn, New York)

Before Villanova finds out who they will play in the previously mentioned game they have to face off against Shaka Smart's VCU Rams who are no longer overlooked by anyone in the college basketball world. Case and point, their recruiting has been stellar as they landed three ESPN 100 players including forwards Terry Larrier and Mike Gilmore.

This team will be able to rebound the basketball at a high level, which provides extra opportunities offensively that they will need in order to beat Villanova. However, the Wildcats have a strong frontcourt that is much more experienced than VCU's, which may provide the difference in this game. If this game was later on in the season this matchup could turn out differently, however with the 30th ranked overall offense coming back for Villanova they should have the edge in this one.

4. Illinois Fighting Illini (December 9; New York, New York)

The Illini finished last season with a 7-11 record in the Big Ten, which is arguably the best conference in the nation, but an eight game losing streak including losses to Northwestern and Purdue cost them a spot in the dance. This season, Michael Finke and Leron Black, their two new recruits, look to put Illinois over the top. However, senior point guard Tracy Abrams tore his ACL and is done for the season. That is a major loss, but the talent that is coming in should help to keep Head Coach John Groce's team afloat. With this being a neutral site game the edge has to go with the veterans of Nova, but expect the battle tested Illini to really give them a fight.

5. St. Joseph's Hawks (December 6; Villanova, Pennsylvania)

The defending national champion UConn Huskies, who ended Nova's season last year, know how tough St. Joe's can be. Last year's championship run almost never came to fruition as the Hawks took the Huskies to overtime before falling in the second round. Before that, St. Joe's ran the table and won the Atlantic 10 Tournament last season so do not be surprised if they keep this one close. This team was ranked 33rd nationally in defensive rebounding and 67th in steals. The Hawks are a solid all-around team that could give Nova problems, but with the Wildcats being so solid at home that might become a moot point.

6. La Salle Explorers (December 3; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Nova does not have to travel too far for this one at all as they take on their rivals La Salle. Let the Philadelphia Big 5 smack talk begin. The Explorers have had major success as recent as 2012 when they shocked the nation by making a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament before the real Shockers from Wichita State knocked them off. They struggled to a 15-16 record a year ago and did not really excel in any statistical categories. However, this is one of the only true road games for the Wildcats on the non-conference schedule. Nova will need to come together as a team in order to survive this road test.

7. Lehigh Mountain Hawks (November 14; Allentown, Pennsylvania)

When C.J. McCollum graduated from Lehigh in 2013, the year after he led the Mountain Hawks to a monumental upset win over Duke, we all knew his school would drop off. They only won 14 games last year and did not bring in anyone special through recruiting over the offseason. However, they are high on the list because they are hosting Nova. Yes, this is the season opener and the first of only two true road games for the Wildcats before Big East play. With a lack of talent on the home team's end, Villanova will be heavily favored, but the lack of experience on the road could have thisand the aforementioned La Salle games be closer than the experts predict.

8. Bucknell Bison (November 20; Villanova, Pennsylvania)

The Bison were 8-8 on the road last year and did not play anyone nearly as good as the Wildcats so this should be the start of the easier games portion of the countdown. However, Bucknell was ranked 41rd in total defense and 40th in defensive rebounding in the country. That is pretty impressive, but the home should still have no problem with them at The Pavilion.

9. Temple Owls (December 14; Villanova, Pennsylvania)

We know that head coach Fran Dunphy's teams always know how to score and last year was no different as they ranked 88th nationally in overall offense. However, a rank of 336th in overall defense is what will do them in this season and especially in this game. Those rankings gave the Owls a 9-22 record last season. Nova should have no trouble with their crosstown rivals this time around.

10. Delaware Blue Hens (November 30; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

The Blue Hens had 25 wins last season, which was good enough for an NCAA Tournament appearance and an early exit against Michigan State. There is a chance that they could give the Wildcats a game, but again with the Cats at home where they were practically unbeatable last season, Delaware does not really have much of a chance.

11. NJIT Highlanders (December 23; Villanova, Pennsylvania)

NJIT gave Seton Hall a game for the majority of their meeting last season until the Pirates pulled away and won easily at the Prudential Center. There is basically no chance of them giving Nova a game, but they will receive some exposure for playing a high profile team like the Wildcats on Fox Sports 1. This one will be over quickly and if it is not expect Villanova's Christmas stockings to be filled with lots of coal that was probably engineered by NJIT students.

12. Maryland-Eastern Shore Fighting Hawks (November 17; Villanova, Pennsylvania)

The only people who likely know of this school are the people who attend it and even those students probably do not even know that their beloved Hawks are clashing with probably the best team from the Big East. Expect Nova to cruise to an easy win in this game. Bruce Springsteen fans should be rooting for the Hawks, however, as famous saxophonist Clarence Clemons is an alum. Cheer up Hawks fans, maybe Clemons will bring the E Street band to campus in order to cheer the student body up after this beat down.