As March Madness approaches, Villanova suddenly finds itself with something to prove. Jay Wright’s Wildcats were tabbed as the overall No. 1 seed in the early NCAA Tournament committee projections two weeks back, but Wednesday’s 74-66 home loss to Butler put a small ding in their otherwise sterling resume. With Kansas beating Baylor on Feb. 18 and Gonzaga’s continued unbeaten run this season, the Wildcats are more likely the third overall seed as play stands today. But if Nova fails to beat No. 23 Creighton on Saturday? What then? Could Villanova fall to a 2?
With a 26-2 record heading into this week, there was little talk of Villanova being anything but a No. 1 seed come March, but if they were to fall to 26-4, with two home losses in a row, the conversation gets murky. After Saturday’s game with Creighton, Nova gets a full week off before traveling to long-time rival Georgetown to end the Big East regular season. These are some must-win games after the Butler loss.
The Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden, a place Villanova has thrived over the years, starts March 8th, with Nova not playing until the following day. Even with the two losses to Butler this season, and even if they fall to Creighton on Saturday, conventional wisdom would suggest Villanova is still the favorite in the conference tournament. Winning the Big East tourney would surely give the Wildcats the No. 1 seed in the East, even with two late regular-season home losses.
Yet, that’s if they win the Big East championship. Last year, Nova was the top seed in the conference tourney and lost in the finals to red-hot Seton Hall. It obviously didn’t stop Wright’s 2016 squad from success in the NCAA Tournament, but getting to the Big East finals and losing this year, coupled with back-to-back home losses late in the regular season would surely drop Villanova to the No. 2 line this year, regardless of what the teams currently on that line do. No team can keep a top seed with that many losses in this short a span.
If Nova fails to even get to the Big East final? There’s no chance they should deserve a top seed. And that would mean there’s a chance they’d be shipped somewhere other than the East region, which would be, frankly, terrible.
And yet, Villanova missed out on a potential No. 1 seed in Philadelphia last season, tasked with playing Kansas in the South Regional in Louisville, and that didn’t hurt them, at all.
But still, come on, Nova would much rather get a regional final at MSG than have to gravel to Memphis, San Jose or Kansas City. And, let’s be honest, they probably will. Creighton is mired in a basketball scandal this week as injured point guard Maurice Watson Jr. — from Philadelphia — has a felony warrant out for his arrest in conjunction with first-degree sexual assault. Watson wasn’t going to play this weekend anyway, but surely the news can’t have the Bluejays solely focused on basketball.
Even aside from that, Creighton is struggling on the court, losing five of their last nine games, including three of their last five by a combined 10 points. It would be surprising if after losing at home to Providence in the final seconds this week that Creighton comes to the Main Line and pulls off an upset at The Pavilion.
For argument’s sake, though, let’s say they do, and let’s say Nova fails to win the Big East championship. Which team below them would get their top seed?
The No. 1 Contenders
Gonzaga and Kansas are locks, and North Carolina is currently on the top line in every bracket projection. Two weeks ago, it was Baylor on the top line, but after a second loss to Kansas and a loss at Texas Tech, the 22-5 Bears are ranked 9th in the AP and have an RPI of 6. A Big 12 title could propel them back to the top line, should Nova or one of the other teams above them falter. That, or the winner of the Big 12 title takes the top seed, and the other — Baylor or Kansas — is a 2.
Louisville just lost to Carolina, but the Cardinals do have a shot at a top seed should they win out. Rick Pitino’s team is ranked 7th in the country, though they could drop after Wednesday’s loss to the Tarheels. Still, should Carolina and Louisville both win out and get to the ACC title game, there is a chance, with Louisville currently at 22-6 with an RPI of 4, a strength of schedule of 3 and an out-of-conference record of 12-1, that two ACC teams sneak onto the top line.
The Pac-12 won’t get two teams on the top line this season, but it seems odd they won’t have one. The Zags will be the No. 1 in the West, but current projections have both Oregon and Arizona on the No. 2 line.
Arizona is currently ranked 4th in the AP poll, are 26-3 overall and 15-1 in conference. They have an RPI of 8, as their strength of schedule is 38, but they finish the regular season against UCLA and at Arizona State before the Pac-12 tournament. Even with Gonzaga looking like the top team out west, it’s hard to think Arizona wouldn’t be a No. 1 seed somewhere should they win out and Villanova loses twice.
Oregon is 24-4 with bad losses to Georgetown and Colorado, but wins over Arizona, two over USC and a split with UCLA. They did lose to Baylor, which should break any ties might both teams be left vying for the last No. 1 seed, but they are 6th in the AP, 7th in the RPI and have a strength of schedule at 28, which isn’t great, but it’s eight spots better than Villanova’s.
No(va) 1 or No(va) 2?
Nova should be a top seed in the East region, and if they beat Creighton and Georgetown it really won’t matter what happens in the Big East Tournament. All the teams on the No. 2 line will be formidable, but what the Wildcats do not want is North Carolina to falter and drop to that line, because the selection committee will definitely put them in the East as well. And that would be awful.
For now, it’s up to Wright to keep his team focused on each game, and not worry about what seed they get in a few week’s time. If they do that this weekend, the rest should take care of itself.