Villanova's 23rd-ranked hoops team continues the non-Big East portion of its schedule Tuesday night at home against Monmouth, in the second preliminary game of the second Philly Hoop Group Classic. The same Monmouth team that just got beat by Penn at the Palestra by 21. But if you were expecting to find out a lot about the Wildcats before Jan. 1, you probably weren't paying attention. Because it figures to be a lot like last season, when the nationally-ranked Wildcats started 10-1 (close loss to North Carolina State, close win in South Philly against LSU), then lost at DePaul and Cincinnati (sandwiched around a 1-point win over Pitt at the Pavilion).
This season, the Wildcats will leave Philadelphia just once in their first 13 games. That will be a train ride to New York to face Top 10 Texas on Dec. 9. So far, the Cats have beaten Albany, Fordham and Niagara, all at home. They'll play Towson Friday at the Palestra, and either Penn State or Rhode Island (which almost beat Duke) the next night, also in West Philly. They'll also host Navy, Houston Baptist (where Colin Montgomerie matriculated, for all you Final Jeopardy fans), Saint Joseph's and Temple. And go to LaSalle and Penn.
Right now, with all the injury problems Jay Wright has already had, the schedule is probably a good thing. The last thing he needs right now is to get even more beaten up. And that's what can happen, once you get into the Big East. The thing Wright needs most at the moment is to get healthier. The stress fracture in Dwayne Anderson's left foot still might not be ready by early January. But all the other stuff , like Corey Stokes' wrist, Shane Clark's knee and Casiem Dummond's sore foot, should be. And that's what matters. The Wildcats should win a bunch of games between now and then, even if it doesn't do much for their RPI. But their postseason fate, as Wright will tell you, will be largely determinded by how they do in those 18 conference games. Hard to argue the point.
It would have been nice if the Philly Hoop Group Classic could have come up with a stronger field. Or if Wright could have scheduled at least one other loseable game against a non-conference opponent. Other than, of course, the four Big 5 games, which Wright will also tell you is something no other team in his position/situation has to deal with. And that's just the way it is, and it's probably not going to change much. So it amounts to a rather long preseason.
Once the New Year arrives, we'll likley have a lot of the same questions we had at the start of 2008. Except that these Cats are a year older, and hopefully a year better. It does make a difference, Until then, try to accept the Monmouths and Towsons and Houston Baptists of the food chain for what they are: necessary evils. As long as nobody else gets hurt, it can't be too bad a thing, can it? And it's not like Villanova's the only big-time program that chooses this route. If it works out come March, nobody remembers anyway.