Villanova went a pedestrian 7-8 in 2013 and that record was the residue of two circumstances: (1) The Wildcats were an abysmal fourth quarter team last season, dropping game after game late in regulation; and (2) Villanova's margin for error was small given the fact that the Wildcats played a schedule ranked in the top 10 nationally in strength. Entering a season in which Villanova is addressing a host of concerns, the Wildcats gave themselves a difficult road to salvation, putting all kinds of heat on a slate that should finish the year ranked among the country's most pressing. A repeat of 2013 could be in the cards for Villanova if the team doesn't detonate some explosions early in the year.
Here are some schedule highlights and games of note:
For All the Tastykakes
January 25: v. Bucknell (exhibition at College Park, M.D.); February 15: @Lehigh; February 25: Drexel; March 8: Pennsylvania; March 29: @Penn State
There are nine Division I lacrosse programs in Pennsylvania and, somehow, Tastykake or some other Pennsylvania-dominant company hasn't sponsored some kind of mythical Keystone State championship, awarding a title to the program that wins the most games against other Pennsylvania schools. In 2014, Villanova will see five of those programs between the preseason and the regular season, missing dates only against Robert Morris, Lafayette, and St. Joseph's. These games are valuable for the Wildcats for more than simply throwing shade on their neighbors: Pennsylvania is a burgeoning incubator for preparatory lacrosse talent, and if Villanova can perform well against regionally-relevant competition (not to mention the fact that the five Pennslyvania teams that the Wildcats will see during 2014 are all top 20 caliber competition), Villanova could establish itself as the state's alpha dog with a steady pipeline of talent accruing from its victory lap.
Every Game is a Big Game
February 15: @Lehigh; February 25: Drexel; March 8: Pennsylvania; March 15: @Maryland; March 18: Princeton; March 29: @Penn State; April 23: @Johns Hopkins
That's an absolutely brutal out-of-conference schedule, seven games against competition that should situate itself strongly within the nation's top 20. The only "breather" in the Wildcats' nonconference portion of its 2014 agenda is a trip to Delaware to face a retooling Blue Hens team; otherwise, Villanova is spending the vast majority of its slate playing hand grenades against a chunk of the country's best teams. This is a huge opportunity for the Wildcats to try and bag some big wins, but there is also a potential downside to scheduling so many elite opponents: Villanova is undergoing an identity shift in the coming spring and has a number of holes to address; with such a daunting slate of out-of-conference opponents, will the Wildcats have enough time -- or the capability -- to generate momentum and find itself before things spiral out of control? This is an aggressive approach to nonconference play, and Villanova doesn't have much room for error in a season in which it may need a somewhat wide berth.
It Comes Down to This
April 5: Denver; April 19: @St. John's
The Big East is going to have a different feel in the coming spring: With Syracuse and Notre Dame pitching a tent in the ACC and Denver squatting on territory previously reserved for basketball-type frontiersmen, the league is going to play out differently in 2014 than it has in the past. The constant, however, is the potential tiering of the conference. If Villanova is able to, at a minimum, split against the league's assumedly strongest teams, the Wildcats should be in good shape for the Big East Tournament; if Villanova falls to both the Pioneers and Red Storm, extra pressure inures to the Wildcats to run through the middle of the conference without blemish. Villanova has done well in recent seasons to handle this situation, and whether the Wildcats can do the same in 2014 will dictate Villanova's conference ceiling.