Late last week Villanova Athletics announced which early-season tournament the men’s basketball team will participate in next year: the 2016 Gildan Charleston Classic.
The Classic will feature a field of Boise State, Western Michigan, Mississippi State, Central Florida, UTEP, Wake Forest, and the host, College of Charleston.
Villanova is back-to-back Big East champions and has earned 1 and 2 seeds in the past two NCAA tournaments. As for the rest of the field, none are currently ranked or even in consideration by the pollsters. Only Boise State made March Madness last year, but failed to advance past the play-in game.
The decision to play in the Charleston Classic is still unanswered. Why would a program as elite and recognized as Villanova play in a tournament of no-names at possibly the height of their recent success? We have known all too well how important strength of schedule is to pollsters and the NCAA Selection Committee alike.
In the past two years, Villanova has chosen to play in big-name tournaments, and walked away champions in both. In 2013, the Wildcats traveled to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. They defeated USC before upsetting Andrew Wiggins and #2 Kansas, and clinched the championship with a win over a top-25 Iowa team. Villanova’s performance vaulted the team from unranked to #14, residing among the top 10 for the rest of the season.
Last year, the team made the short trip to Brooklyn to play in the new Barclays Center. Once again, they played two tough teams. After trouncing #14 VCU, they proved their worth again the next night with a victory over Michigan in the championship game. The wins Villanova earned in these tournaments became the marquee wins the team could point to as impressive out-of-conference performance at a time when many doubted the substance of the new Big East.
In this way, the decision to choose the Charleston Classic is puzzling, to say the least. It is true that Charleston is a beautiful city and will be warm at a time when the Main Line begins to drop into freezing temperatures. But that alone is not sufficient to answer why Villanova chose South Carolina over big tournaments in say, Maui, Las Vegas, the Bahamas (again), or Puerto Rico, where many Villanova students and alumni live.
If Villanova had lost even one its recent early-season tournament games, it would be understandable why the program would choose to tone down its out-of-conference opponents. However, this team rolled past everyone last season before Christmas, and looks like they can do the same this season.. The only excitement in Charleston will be a possible upset if the Wildcats are not fully prepared. A preemptive prayer to St. Augustine that we don’t lose to the Western Michigan Broncos of Kalamazoo (yes that’s a real city in Michigan) would not hurt.
On the other hand, Villanova is undefeated to start this season, and next year’s team may be even better. Going undefeated into Big East play is always a welcome sight, and a guarantee to be included in the Top Ten Club come New Year’s Day. Nova Nation has entrusted new Athletic Director Mark Jackson with the future of our basketball program, and as of now we have every reason to believe in him.