Saturday, September 6, 2008

Thoughts on the 2008-09 Schedule

The Big East conference schools released their schedules on Thursday this year. You can find the official Villanova schedule on the University's web site. As I entered the schedule on my computer I had a chance to review it and gather my thoughts.
Out of Conference
Coach Mass brings his Northwood team to town to kick off the Wildcat's 2008-09 season with an exhibition in the Wachovia Center. The game will be played on November 6. Nova will begin the season with a 4 game homestand, the first game to be played against the Albany greyhounds at the Pavillion on November 14. The Wildcats will host Fordham, Niagara and Monmouth in sequence (the last 2 teams constitue the first two rounds of The 2008 Philly Classic) before moving on to the Palestra to close out the last two rounds of The 2008 Philly Classic against Towson and either Rhode Island or Penn State. The combined 2007-08 record of the first 5 opponents was 66-84 (.440), not an intimidating run of opponents. Albany (15-15), Niagara (19-10) and Monmouth (7-24) are expected to post better records this season, due largely to talent upgrades (Niagara will add Big East transfers Rob Garrison and Philadelphia's own Bilal Benn to an already strong back court contingent headed by Ty Lewis also from the Phildelphia area) or a maturing squad -- both Albany and Monmouth, like Villanova, started mostly sophomores and freshmen last season. The Philly Classic will offer a 4th round matchup between either Rhode Island (21-12) or Penn State (15-16). Rhode Island scoring leader Will Daniels and assist leader Parfait Bitee. The (URI) Rams may have to work to match last season's record. Penn State will most likely struggle again in the Big Ten. Looking ahead to the end of the season, drawing Rhode Island in the last round may be better for Villanova's SOS. Playing six games in November is new for Villanova. Looking back over the past 4-5 seasons, the previous high was 5 games, while the lowest number was 1 game.
This year the trend to make December Villanova's "Big 5 Month" is complete with the St. Joseph's Hawks vacating their (lately) traditional early February slot for an early December date. The Wildcats kick off the mini-season on December 2 against the Penn Quakers and conclude, against the Temple Owls, on December 29. The Big 5 segment, based on last season's records actually looks like the stronger part of the Wildcat's OOC schedule. The city school combined record in 2007-08 was 70-61 (.534). Along with the Big 5 Villanova will face off against Texas in Madison Square Garden on December 9 in the over card of the Jimmy V Classic. The Longhorns will bring a Top 25 (Top 10?) squad up North for the contest. This will be Villanova's first game outside of Pennsylvania, and it appears to be the marquee game of the OOC portion of Nova's schedule. Texas notched a 31-7 record last season, running to the Regional Finals before falling to Memphis. Those concerned that Houston Baptist (December 4 in the Pavillion) will be RPI poison can relax. They are a probationary D1 program (1-9 versus D1 opponents last season), so I don't believe the NCAA (or anyone else) is computing an RPI for them. Assuming Villanova takes that game (Pitt opened their 2007-08 season by hammering Houston Baptist 103-61; Marquette will host them in their season opener) and sustains no injuries, the 'Cats should suffer no RPI trauma from this scheduling choice. December's opponents posted a combined 118-91 (.565) record last season.
Big East
For the 4th consecutive season Villanova opens on the road, this time with a 2 game journey that starts at Marquette and proceeds to Newark, NJ and the Rock for a game against the Seton Hall Pirates. The Wildcats have stumbled out of the (Big East) gate the past 2 seasons. I am looking for a more experienced squad to start stronger this season. Taking one of those two games would seem to be a step in the right direction. Nova then returns to Philadelphia for a two game homestand that features a matchup with Louisville, another Top 10 (projected) team, followed by a game with Villanova's longest standing rival (by number of games played...), the St. John's Red Storm. This scheduling "two step" continues for the balance of January and includes road games with Connecticut and South Florida followed by home games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. A road record of 3-1 through this stretch would be great, while 2-2 (or 1-3) seem more likely. The January 21 game at Hartford is especially crucial for both Villanova and Connecticut. Villanova has won the last two games in the series, with last season's 2 point home victory especially hard fought. The Huskies are another Top 25 (projected) team, with more than a few in the national media projecting them as a Top 10 team. For Villanova, a second road win in three years would bolster the Wildcat's claims for inclusion among the conference elites. For Connecticut, this is the season when the program turns the corner in the post Williams/Gay Era downturn. As for January's home slate (plus the February 2 game versus Cincinnati), the selection looks a bit more favorable for the Nova squad. Drawing Louisville relatively early for example, may work to Villanova's advantage. The Cardinals are replacing virtually their entire front court (versatile junior Earl Clark excepted) with freshmen, true and redshirted. Most likely Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings (and Jarod Swopshire and redshirt freshman George Goode...) will be better in February/March than they will be in early January. A relatively inexperienced Wildcat squad with both Reynolds and Fisher benched to start the game (Fisher eventually got in for 3 minutes while Reynolds logged 26, the smallest amount of PT through the last 10 games of the season) dropped a 14 point decision to a veteran Cardinal squad. Villanova should hold the experience advantage this time around. For Pittsburgh, the front court is solid, but the Panthers have some questions, going into the season, about their back court. By the end of January 2009 (1/28), the Panther faithful should have a pretty good idea how well Woodall, Wanamaker, Gibbs and Brown filled the void left by Benjamin, Ramon and Cook. A very physical Bearcat front court manhandled Villanova's guards last season, handing the 'Cats a 3 point loss at Fifth Third. That front court has moved on, taking savvy point guard Jamual Warren with them. The Wildcats should be motivated when that matchup in the Pavillion opens the February portion of the campaign. The combined 2007-08 record for the opponents in this portion of Villanova's Big East schedule was 156-110 (.586), a better record than the December slate.
The last 10 games of the Big East regular season will follow the home game against Cincinnati. Villanova again has a mix of home and road games, but sequence is less rhythmic than January. Notable road opponents during this stretch of the season include West Virginia (the Colossium is never kind to visitors), Syracuse (the Carrier Dome has been good to the Wildcats...) and Notre Dame (South Bend in the first weekend in March...ouch). The only consecutive road sequence is a trip to the Carrier Dome followed by a run out to Chicago to face the Blue Demons of DePaul. Villanova has faced the Demons early in the season heretofore, giving them a turn with a much feistier squad than usually finishes the season. These home stands, like the road games, offer only one sequence (Syracuse followed by Marquette) of back-to-bask home games. Given the mix of games and the anticipated level of competition, that is about the best that could be offered. The other noted visitor was Georgetown, due into the Wachovia Center (and it's, let's hope, 20,000 rabid citizens of the Nova Nation...) on the last day of February. The combined record for this set of opponents is 198-134 (.598).
Observations & Notes...
1. While Texas may provide early national exposure, the SOS meat is located in the Big East regular season. Note the steady improvement in opponent's 2007-08 records for each month of the season (see table below).

1/1-2/1 (1st 8)1561100.586
2/4-3/5 (last 10)1981340.596

2. While I have not checked every other Big East member's schedule just yet, I suspect, from those I have reviewed, that fewer teams are opting to schedule non-conference games after New Year's. Given the demands of the conference schedule, it seems a prudent move.
3. Given the opponents and uncertainties of the Wildcat squad right now, 6-2 (or better) is optimistic for the start of the Big East season. But if the squad is healthy through December and January, 4-4 (or worse) would disappoint me. The team is too experienced to lose more than 3 games during January.
4. The four game stretch that concerns me most right now begins with a road game in Providence (February 4), includes two consecutive home games against Marquette and Syracuse (in that order) and concludes with another road game against West Virginia on February 13. This late January/early February period has been a problem for Villanova in past seasons, and going 0-4 through that stretch, given the opponents and playing circumstances though not out of the question, would damage the Wildcat's chances for a post season in the NCAAs.
5. A 6-4 record through the last 10 games might be realistic. Better than that would be great however.

2 comments: said...

Here are some teams' non-conference games after 1/1/09...

Sunday, Jan. 4- Kentucky at Louisville

Saturday, Jan. 17- Georgetown at Duke

Saturday, Feb. 7- Michigan at Connecticut
Notre Dame at UCLA

Thursday, Feb. 19- Duke at St. John’s

greyCat said...

Thanks, I have been going over the Big East team schedules individually but had not completed it yet. The Louisville-Kentucky game is traditional (the Notre Dame-UCLA game is as well), but the timing is a bit late. The Cards and Wildcats have tangled in December in years past (good early season TV game). The Georgetown-Duke and Connecticut-Michigan games are made-for-TV marriages. One of the national distributors no doubt played a role in bringing those guys together. I have no idea why the Johnnies give Duke that spotlight. Beating up the local team on basketball's biggest stage in the heart of Big East territory is a great recruiting tool. I hope he thanks NR every time they renew that series.

I recall a few early summer rumors that Villanova was exploring a series agreement with Michigan. Remembering the difficulty the 'Cats had attacking Coach Beilein's 1-3-1 defense (and how easily those last few Mountaineer teams exploited Nova's help defense) I was more eager for that series last season, before JB restocked the Wolverine squad with "his" players.