After the grueling 18 game Big East regular season, Villanova found themselves in a familiar position by being crowned the regular season Big East Conference champion for the third consecutive season. Another banner will be hung in the rafters but the next month will determine how successful the 2015-16 campaign was for Jay Wright and the rest of ‘Nova.
First up in the gauntlet toward validation will be the Big East tournament, where all 10 conference teams travel to New York City to determine who will receive the automatic bid for the NCAA tournament. The way this year’s bracket is designed, the Wildcats will have to win three games in three nights to repeat as tourney champions and earn the right to celebrate on the Garden’s floor.
The first prospected opponent for ‘Nova will be the winner of the Georgetown and DePaul contest. Both teams had different expectations at the beginning of the season with Georgetown selected to finish 2nd in the conference and DePaul was expected to be a cellar dweller being chosen 9 out of 10. But there is a reason why games are played and the Hoyas were the most disappointing team in the Big East, as they finished with a disappointing 14-17 overall record and have been eliminated from a postseason tournament barring a miraculous run. Unfortunately for DePaul, they did play as anticipated and finished the as the 9th ranked team in the Big East with a 9-21 overall record. Villanova matches up well with both teams and should be able to dispatch either of these foes.
The next evening match up will be vastly more challenging than the previous night as Villanova could face either the Providence Friars or the Butler Bulldogs. Both of these squads were going in the opposite direction of each other during the course of the season. Providence was ranked as high as number 8 and does hold a win against Villanova but the Friars appeared to peak with the victory against the Wildcats. After that victory the Friars lost 6 out of their next 8 and have almost played themselves into a bubble team. Butler struggled at the onset of conference play going a disappointing 2-5 to start but was able to right the ship and ultimately ended with a 10-8 Big East record.
Based on the last 10 games for both clubs Butler will be the tougher out. Providence does have a future top NBA draft pick in Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil has emerged as the most improved player in the Big East but the team is not performing at the most crucial time. Butler does have a recent history under Brad Stevens of being at their deadliest when no one is talking about them. Currently Butler appears to be the silent assassin preparing to end other teams’ seasons.
Now if Villanova gets passed the first two obstacles, they will compete for the crown that is currently on their head. The two most probable opponents will be either Seton Hall or Xavier. The Hall is led by super sophomore Isaiah Whitehead who has grown in leaps and bounds since his debut season in Orange, New Jersey. Still in a direct matchup the experience of Villanova will be valuable and the Wildcats should be able to sink the Pirate’s ship.
Xavier, on the other hand, will be a different narrative. It will be a rubber match as both teams share a win on their respective home court. What better place for the deciding contest to occur than at Madison Square Garden? This could be the toughest opponent because of the depth and size of Xavier. Also ‘Nova can have an opportunity to defeat a top quality opponent on a neutral floor, which is an achievement that they has not accomplished yet. However, it will be an interesting tournament and one that the Wildcats can definitely win if they play it right.
Photo: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament