Villanova has lost just twice since falling to Seton Hall in the 2016 Big East Championship last season. After an NCAA Tournament run that ended in Jay Wright’s team cutting down the nets in Houston before parading down Market Street, this season’s Wildcats started the year with 14-straight wins, before falling at Butler in January.
After beating Seton Hall this past Saturday — sweeping the season series by an average of 26 points in the two wins — Nova gets the chance for revenge against Butler as well, hosting the Bulldogs this Wednesday on Fox Sports 1. Villanova then hosts nationally-ranked Creighton on Saturday — the Bluejays were 10th-ranked and undefeated when the Wildcats beat them 80-70 in Omaha on New Year’s Eve — before ending the regular season against longtime rival Georgetown.
The Big East Tournament should be just as tough to win as last season, so while Wright’s team can look back on recent success to guide them through tournament play — the quick turnaround between games and running into a streaky-hot team has felled even the best teams sometimes — he’ll certainly use the loss in last year’s Big East final as motivation for this season’s tourney run. It’s one thing to win the national championship, but it’s another to lose your conference title along the way. That, if nothing else, should give Villanova a ton to play for leading into March Madness.
The Big East looked stacked in December, but teams beating each other up in conference play has leveled the field a bit…outside of Villanova. Butler stands in second in the conference at 21-6, but five of their six losses have come in conference play.
Creighton is 22-5 through games on Sunday, but after starting 13-0, they are just 9-5 since the turn of the new year. Xavier was ranked 15th in the nation when Villanova pummelled them 79-54 on Jan. 10, losing three of their next four games, all to ranked teams. The Wildcats set the Musketeers on another three-game slide last week, and now they’re looking at a No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Marquette is on the outside of the NCAA bubble looking in at 16-10 and 7-7 in Big East play, but if there’s one game that might secure them a ticket to the dance, it’s the 17-point comeback win over Villanova. If the Seton Hall loss last season can serve as motivation for this year’s Big East tournament, Nova’s January loss to Marquette can serve as a reminder that no game is won until it’s over; a lesson Wright will use as games start to get tougher.
And tougher they will get. Villanova’s strength of schedule is 30th in the country, and 47th in non-conference games. The overall ranking should improve with Butler and Creighton still to play, but in 13 non-conference games, six were at home — including a 61-59 win over Virginia earlier this month — and only two were away, the biggest coming at Purdue. Nova was 5-0 in neutral-site games, including a win over Notre Dame in December, but not much else.
The NCAA selection committee has begun to downplay RPI rankings, but for context, CBS Sports has Virginia as Nova’s best win, ranked 15th in the country. Xavier was ranked 17th, followed by Purdue, Creighton and Notre Dame, the only teams Villanova has beaten in the RPI top 25.
The best team they’ve played all year? Butler, ranked 12th at the time of that loss. Surely, if Nova wants to repeat, they’re going to have to beat some better teams. Including Butler this week.
Speaking of better teams, there aren’t any in Philly. Not this year.
College basketball within the city limits has been woeful this season, as the five schools are a combined 58-73, with LaSalle having the only winning record, at 14-11. Here’s a look at the City 6 schools this season, and their bleak chances of making the dance.
- Record: 26-2
- Conference Record: 13-2 (1st)
- Big 5 Record: 4-0 (Did not play Drexel.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 2
- Head Coach: Jay Wright (502-244; 380-159 at Nova)
- Top players: Josh Hart – 18.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg; Jalen Brunson – 14.6 ppg, 4.5 apg; Kris Jenkins – 13.3 ppg, 4.3 rpg; Mikal Bridges – 10.8ppg, 4.6 rpg
Chances of making the NCAAs: Biggest lock in school history.
Chances of winning the Tournament: Nova is nearly a lock for the top seed in the East — and maybe the top seed in the entire tournament — giving them a chance to play the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 at Madison Square Garden. The chances for Nova to get back to the Final Four will be high, but teams like Kansas, Gonzaga, Baylor and North Carolina will love a chance to play the Wildcats in the Final Four.
The last team to repeat as NCAA champions was Florida…10 years ago.
- Record: 14-14
- Conference Record: 5-10 (8th)
- Big 5 Record: 3-1 (Lost to Nova. Did not play Drexel.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 93
- Head Coach: Fran Dunphy (538-296; 228-133 at Temple)
- Top players: Shizz Alston Jr. – 13.6 ppg, 4.0 apg; 1.7 spg; Daniel Dingle – 12.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 3.5 apg; Obi Enchionyia – 12.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg
Chances of making the NCAAs: Slim to none. Temple is eighth in the American Athletic Conference, so they’ll likely have to play against the No. 9 seed on Thursday, March 9 in the first round of the conference tournament. If they win, they’d face the top seed, which should be either SMU or Cincinnati. If, somehow, the Owls win that game, they’ll likely have to face UConn — who they just lost to in the final seconds this weekend — with the tournament being held in Hartford. Good luck.
Chances of winning the Tournament: Zero.
Saint Joseph’s Hawks
- Record: 10-16
- Conference Record: 3-11 (13th)
- Big 5 Record: 2-3 (Split with La Salle. Beat Penn. Also beat Drexel.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 166
- Head Coach: Phil Martelli (413-289)
- Top players: Shavar Newkirk – 20.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.5 apg; Lamarr Kimble – 15.5 ppg, 4.5 apg; James Demery – 13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg; Charlie Brown – 12.7 ppg, 5.2 rpg
Chances of making the NCAAs: Maybe they can win a game in their conference tournament? That’s all they’d get, if that, which is a precipitous fall for a team that won 28 games last season and made it to the NCAA Tournament. Yes, they lost their top three scorers, but this season has been horrible for the Hawks, made worse when Shavar Newkirk went out for the season with a torn ACL just before the calendar turned to 2017.
Chances of winning the Tournament: Less than zero.
- Record: 11-12
- Conference Record: 4-6 (4th)
- Big 5 Record: 1-3 (Also beat Drexel.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 195
- Head Coach: Steve Donahue (221-243; 21-29 at Penn)
- Top players: AJ Brodeur – 14.1 ppg, 6.7 rpg; Matt Howard 11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg
Chances of making the NCAAs: So…here’s the thing. They might not be awful. Maybe. The Ivy League is now playing a conference tournament, where the top four men’s and top four women’s teams come down to the Palestra on March 11 and 12 to decide their respective conference winners. Penn is currently seeded fourth in the Ivy League standings, with four games to play, but only one against a team with a better record. Princeton is 17-6 and 10-0 in conference play and Harvard is 16-7 and 8-2, but Penn only needing to win two games on their home floor to get to the dance? If they make it there, it could get interesting.
Chances of winning the Tournament: That would not be a smart bet.
La Salle Explorers
- Record: 14-11
- Conference Record: 8-6 (7th)
- Big 5 Record: 1-4 (Split with Saint Joe’s. Also beat Drexel.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 101
- Head Coach: John Giannini (323-314; 198-203 at La Salle)
- Top players: B.J. Johnson – 18 ppg, 6.3 rpg; Jordan Price – 16.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg; Pookie Powell – 13.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.5 apg
Chances of making the NCAAs: La Salle will get a bye in the A10 tourney, then will likely play a Fordham or GW team they can beat, but that’s about it, as they would get VCU or Dayton in the quarterfinals, and will surely need to win the whole tournament to get in, as the A10 is looking like a three-bid league.
Chances of winning the Tournament: You have to be in it to win it. They won’t be in it.
- Record: 9-20
- Conference Record: 3-13 (10th)
- Big 5 Record: N/A (Lost to everyone in Philly they played.)
- CBS Sports RPI: 264
- Head Coach: Zach Spiker (111-132; 9-20 at Drexel)
- Top players: Rodney Williams – 16.2 ppg, 6.7 rpg; Kurk Lee – 15.0 ppg, 5.1 apg
Chances of making the NCAAs: Did you know, Drexel won 29 games in 2011-12 and didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. They won’t make it this year either, unless they run the table in the CAA tourney, which is not happening.
Chances of winning the Tournament: Villanova has a better chance of not making the NCAA Tournament than Drexel has of winning it.