When the mass exodus of the Big East Conference occurred in the spring of 2013, only a few remaining powers were left standing. Of those, the Villanova Wildcats flew a little bit under the radar as the conference tipped off a new era, with Georgetown and even St. John's being the established names to garner the most attention.
Two years later, 'Nova checks in as back-to-back regular season champions and head into the 2015-16 season as the team to beat once again. Chock full of talent, the 'Cats are dangerous and will be aiming for the Tom Emanski special this year. That's back-to-back-to-back Big East regular season titles, of course.
Let's take a look at what's in store for Villanova this season and what will be standing in between them and a threepeat.
Xavier (December 31)
Last season, Creighton and Providence had a Big East Tournament Final rematch to start their respective Big East seasons. This time around, it will be Villanova and Xavier commencing their Big East seasons in a rematch of the 2015 edition of the Big East Tournament Final. 'Nova and X will tangle in a Noon ET tip on the final day of 2015 and the matchup should certainly provide a tonnage of fireworks and excitement and will be a great litmus test for both squads to get their seasons rolling off on the right foot.
Creighton (January 2; Omaha, NE)
A season ago, Villanova escaped CenturyLink Center with a four-point win over the Creighton Bluejays in the penultimate game of the 2014-15 season. This was a game that CU led at halftime and both teams scored the exact same amount of points (23) in the final ten minutes of the game. The "CLink" as it is affectionally called is one of the toughest places to play in the Big East and the country as well and it will likely not be very easy for the 'Cats to unseat the Jays here. While I don't doubt that talent could and likely will win out, underestimating Creighton isn't a very good idea. The Bluejays could catch the 'Cats napping here in the early portion of this Big East season and it wouldn't be close to being a surprise.
Seton Hall (January 6)
Villanova travels back home after a trip to Omaha to welcome the Seton Hall Pirates. Last time these two shared the floor, ugliness overtook the storylines and it represented a catastrophic pitfall for Kevin Willard and the Pirates. I'll give the edge to Villanova here in this matchup despite Seton Hall toting talent with them. Playing at home will no doubt favor them, and it's tough to figure out what exactly SHU is going to be bringing to the table in the 2015-16 season. Likely, by this point, we'll know just a little bit more.
Butler (January 10; Indianapolis, IN)
The home-away trend continues for 'Nova in the early portion of their schedule as they will travel to historic Hinkle Fieldhouse on the 10th of January. The Butler Bulldogs are one of the main contenders that the 'Cats will have this season with a triple threat of NC State transfer Tyler Lewis, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Like with Creighton, Villanova had to scratch and claw their way to get out of Hinkle alive with a victory a season ago in one of the best games of the entire season. The Wildcats won by three points despite being outscored in the second half 43-41, thanks in large part to a Darrun Hilliard 3-pointer. Whether this game brings the theatrics of that one is left to be determined. You can probably bet on it though.
Marquette (January 13)
Three days later 'Nova will come back to southeastern Pennsylvania to host the Marquette Golden Eagles. As described elsewhere, this game will have all sorts of eyeballs attached to it thanks in large part to the fact that two of the Big East's best freshmen will be logging minutes. Those, of course, being Henry Ellenson of MU, and Jalen Brunson of VU. Ellenson will likely be banging bodies with the likes of Daniel Ochefu and Kris Jenkins and the 6-10 freshman will get his first crack against high-end competition in this game. There are so many storylines in this game that will make it a must-see for college hoops fans across the spectrum.
Georgetown (January 16; Washington, D.C.)
The home-away rotation will conclude after this encounter with Georgetown as Villanova makes a trip to D.C. and then Newark, New Jersey for the ensuing matchup with the Seton Hall Pirates. Let's talk about this one first. It'll be a 1 p.m. ET tip on this January Saturday afternoon on CBS, as perhaps the best rivalry in the current state of the Big East will add yet another chapter. The Hoyas are one of a few teams looking to knock Villanova off the pedestal this year and they have the talent and the coaching to do it. G'Town was able to score a laughable 20-point victory over 'Nova last season that the 'Cats have likely not forgotten about. This one is set to be an absolute gem and is perhaps the most-anticipated matchup of the entire Big East season.
Seton Hall (January 20; Newark, NJ)
Maybe this is a bit of a blessing of disguise to not have the Villanova Wildcats be playing on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In the last two seasons, they've gotten trounced by the Hoyas and demolished by the Creighton Bluejays on MLK Day and, instead, 'Nova will play four days later against the Pirates at the Prudential Center. The Wildcats will be looking to avenge a last-second defeat at the hands of SHU at The Rock a season ago, which was also subsequently a win that one columnist here at BECB noted was Seton Hall's springboard moment back into national relevancy. THAT WENT WELL! Good job, good effort, person. Never read an article from them.
Oh, wait, this is awkward.
Providence (January 23)
In the first of four conference games to be played in the city of Philadelphia at the Wells Fargo Center, the Wildcats will welcome the Providence College Friars to The City of Brotherly Love. This hotly contested and highly anticipated matchup will feature the Co-Big East Players of the Year from the 2014-15 season as point guards Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono will stand toe-to-toe at the WFC. The big FOX will be televising this matchup meaning all of America will have an opportunity to watch two of the best point guards in the conference and the nation, too. This will also culminate a brutal early stretch for 'Nova with facing BU, MU, Georgetown and PC over the span of five games. How Villanova performs in this block of games could and should have a profound impact on how the 'Cats do this season.
St. John's (January 31; New York, NY)
A week before Super Bowl Sunday, Villanova and St. John's will meet inside the legendary Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Wildcats have enjoyed a bevy of success lately inside The World's Most Famous Arena. Including games in the Jimmy V Classic, the Big East Tournament and versus the Red Storm, Jay Wright and the Cats have won seven of the last nine games played inside MSG, including a five-game winning streak that took place just last season alone. It's fair to say that the bright lights don't bother Villanova one bit and we'll see what occurs on the 31st of January and whether they can continue their winning ways in The Big Apple against the Johnnies and first-year head coach Chris Mullin.
Creighton (February 3)
'Nova welcomes Creighton to The Pavilion on February 3 for a Wednesday night encounter on the CBS Sports Network. The Wildcats handled their business this past January when they welcomed CU to The Pavilion, winning by the tune of 71-50 in a game that wasn't ever even close. A Creighton team that will likely be much improved this year should be able to give the 'Cats a run for their money but it's exceptionally difficult to defeat Villanova in their own house. Impressively, 'Nova has won their last 30 games played inside The Pavilion. Their last loss at home? Intriguingly enough, it was to Providence... on February 3, 2013. Bad omen or strange coincidence? We'll find out soon enough.
Providence (February 6; Providence, RI)
Those aforementioned Friars, though different in composition, will host the Wildcats three days later at The Dunk for a Saturday afternoon showdown. This game may not be televised on the big FOX network, but let's make no mistake here: this game will have huge implications as the second half of the Big East season begins. Dunn-Arch II should provide the theatrics we're all expecting it to THe Dunk will be rowdy and loud to say the very least.
DePaul (February 9; Rosemont, IL)
It won't be until February that Villanova takes their annual trip to the Rosemont Horizon in northwest suburban Chicago. The DePaul Blue Demons are undergoing a brand new era under head coach Dave Leitao and after a few dismal seasons, one has to wonder if there are any reasons to be optimistic. Well, one is already there in the form of point guard Billy Garrett Jr. who should be able to hold his own against Arcidiacono and Lincolnshire, Illinois native Jalen Brunson who will have a de facto homecoming in this game. If his performances in suburban Chicago in the past are any indication, we might see Brunson's coming out party occur on this very night.
St. John's (February 13)
While Villanova has had their success traveling to Manhattan in the past, St. John's is looking to get off the schneid in Philly. The Red Storm haven't won at Villanova (whether it's the Wells Fargo Center or The Pavilion) since an 81-68 victory over the 'Cats on February 26, 2011. In that matchup, it was Dwight Hardy who exploded for 34 points with a 5-for-9 mark from the 3-point line and an 11-of-13 night at the free throw line to help vault the then No. 23-ranked Johnnies over the No. 15 Wildcats. Nearly five years later, St. John's may find themselves a little overmatched against an exponentially more talented 'Cats team. But as they say... stranger things have happened.
Butler (February 20)
After taking a brief break from Big East play to take on the Temple Owls, Villanova resumes Big East play three days later against the Butler Bulldogs. This one will be on big FOX, and for good reason. No doubt are BU and 'Nova two top-tier teams in the conference and by this point in the season, we'll likely see these two teams jostling for position near the top of the Big East Conference. This one will be heavy with implications towards March and for that reason, it should be a big test for the 'Cats before March.
Xavier (February 24; Cincinnati, OH)
'Nova hasn't appear to be very fazed by the raucous Cintas Center in the past two seasons. A 78-66 win last year and 77-70 victory in 2014 tell that story pretty well, so the Wildcats will be looking to make it three in a row on the road against X in this late February matchup. X will be looking to make things happen as March nears and a win over 'Nova could do them wonders. We'll see what happens but, if trends are believed to be continued, 'Nova may very well walk in and walk out of Cincy with a victory.
Marquette (February 27; Milwaukee, WI)
It's been tough sledding for Villanova when going to Milwaukee lately. And this one might be a tough ride as well. It'll be National Marquette Day on February 27 and with the highly touted 'Cats coming into town, the BMO Harris Bradley Center is going to be apoplectic and astoundingly loud. Of all the road tests that Jay Wright and the 'Cats will have this year, this could be the one that provides the biggest opportunity of an upset. However, I suspect that in the end, experience will win out this one.
DePaul (March 1)
It'll be home sweet home for the Wildcats as they finish the season with two consecutive home games. The first comes against DePaul, who we could feasibly project to possibly be out of the running at this point. That could very well be dangerous for 'Nova if they're looking ahead to the final matchup of the season against the Georgetown Hoyas. It would behoove Villanova to do the opposite of that and approach it just as they would any other matchup. Otherwise, they could be on the receiving end of a classic trap game.
Georgetown (March 5)
No better way to end the season than with a game like this. This could be a dream scenario for the conference if Georgetown and Villanova jockey for first place in the Big East as some believe that they will. Of course, predicting that to happen in October is crazy, but an epic season finale between two longstanding Big East powers sounds appetizing, doesn't it?
There's no denying that Villanova is likely the preseason favorite in the Big East. That said, I think there's something to be said about the gap around them possibly closing. Every team in the Big East, sans maybe St. John's, improved steadfastly in the offseason including some of the top-tier teams from a year ago. It's going to be extremely difficult for the 'Cats to go through unscathed like they've done in the past as, even with the likes of Jalen Brunson, I don't think they are head-and-shoulders above everybody else in the conference as they've been the last two seasons. With that said, here's my thoughts on their win-loss record:
at Creighton W
Seton Hall W
at Butler L
at Georgetown L
at Seton Hall W
at St. John's W
at Providence L
at DePaul W
St. John's W
at Xavier L
at Marquette W