VILLANOVA, Pa -- For the first time since the opening of the Wells Fargo Center in 1996, Villanova will host its regular season opener there Friday evening against Columbia. Tipoff is set for just after 8:30 p.m. with the game to be carried nationally on FS2 (Scott Graham and Donny Marshall) with Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby handling the call on 610 Sports Radio.
The Wildcats have played nine of their last 10 regular season openers at the Pavilion, which is currently undergoing a $60 million renovation. The re-branded Finneran Pavilion is expected to open in the fall of 2018.
The Wildcats -- who have won 14 in a row on opening night - own a 43-32 lifetime record at the Center, including a 4-0 mark in South Philadelphia a season ago. But the 2017-18 campaign will be unlike any that has come before it as VU hosts 12 home games there. Its previous high was five. The Wildcats will also be part of a doubleheader with the VU women's squad on Friday, Nov. 17 at PPL Center in Allentown, Pa., and host a regular season game at the Jake Nevin Field House for the first time since Jan. 4, 1986 when Penn visits on Wednesday, Nov. 29.
"This is going to be a unique challenge for this group with all but one of our games off campus this season," stated VU Head Coach Jay Wright, who begins his 17th season on Friday.
Though no one on the current roster was at Villanova for Columbia's last meeting with the Wildcats, in 2012, the Nova Nation and members of the coaching staff know well what happened. The Lions delivered a 75-57 defeat to the Wildcats on their home court. It is one of only three non-BIG EAST losses for the Wildcats on campus in the last 11 seasons (Drexel in 2006 and Temple in 2012 were the others).
"It's a scary opener," stated Wright. "One of the things we aren't pleased with is that we haven't been a real efficient, sound team yet. When you play a team like Columbia, which is very well-coached, they execute extremely well. Those kinds of teams can get you, especially early in the season. You might be well conditioned and you might still be developing your personnel but you might not be executing it well.
"That's what concerns me."
Villanova returns two starters from a unit that finished 32-4 in juniors Mikal Bridges and preseason Associated Press All-American Jalen Brunson. But the Wildcats also welcome back a pair of athletes who were expected to play a big role in 2016-17 but spent the season on the sidelines due to injury (Phil Booth) and an academic redshirt (Omari Spellman).
"We're weren't sure how effective Omari and Phil were going to be early" stated Wright. "But we've been able to get them in there in our scrimmages and exhibition game and both answered some questions for us. Omari gives us an inside presence that we had with Daniel Ochefu. Phil is back to his old form, which gives us another experienced guard. Those guys have looked good early and helped us to start to form our identity."
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.