With more than half of the Big East regular season behind them and the calendar turning to February, Villanova finds themselves standing atop the polls as the number one team in the country. Despite their success, one must wonder how long will the Wildcats hold the top spot in the land? While the Wildcats are in the softer part of their conference schedule, there will still be certain obstacles ‘Nova will have to overcome before selection Sunday.
Currently what Villanova and the rest of the NCAA bound tournament teams are vying for is positioning in the NCAA tournament. While the highest seed does not always come away victorious in March Madness, the number one seeds usually have two distinct advantages. Firstly, they face off with the 16 seeds, who have not defeated a number 1 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament ever. Secondly, a number 1 seed drastically improves the chances of a team going to the Final Four which ‘Nova needs to reach to exercise the demons of past tourney upsets. However, Villanova still has some work to do. Here are three games that could cause issues for them in the remainder of the season.
vs. Butler on Feb. 20th
For back-to-back seasons Butler has been the surprise team in the Big East but for different reasons. Last season, Butler was the underrated team that was able to surprise the experts and compile a 23-11 record. Despite much of their roster returning this season, Butler has not matched the success of last year’s team, as they have fallen out of the top 25 and currently have a 7-7 record in conference. Yet when they matched up with Villanova on Jan. 10th, the Wildcats narrowly escaped Hinkle Fieldhouse with a 60-55 win.
Butler is a bubble team that needs marquee wins to solidify their chances of securing an NCAA tournament bid. Butler appears to be playing their best basketball as of late by winning 4 out of their last 5 games, including a road win against Seton Hall. If Butler is able to secure a road win at Villanova, the chances of Butler being called on Selection Sunday will be greatly increased.
at Xavier on Feb. 24th
The Big East opener for Villanova was a cakewalk as the Wildcats dominated the Xavier Musketeers by a score of 95-64. But unlike many other conferences, the Big East has a true home-and-home with every team. If this was another major conference, Villanova would never have to travel to Cincinnati and take on the musketeers, but ‘Nova is in the Big East. Jay Wright will have to bring his team to the Cintas Center to take on a hungry and determined Xavier team February 24th.
There are two distinct advantages that Xavier coach Chris Mack can utilize against Villanova. Firstly, the 1-3-1 zone that the Musketeers utilize could disturb the Wildcats. Many college teams prefer to rely on a straight man-to-man defense paired with a full court press. For Xavier, the 1-3-1 zone is spotted at the correct time and can befuddle the opposition. In addition, Xavier also has a distinct advantage in the frontcourt with Jalen Reynolds and James Farr who could exploit the small lineup utilized by Jay Wright.
Furthermore, Xavier manhandled a top 25 game this week in Providence, even though the Friars have been descending the polls the last few weeks. Big East Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn and his teammates were overwhelmed from start to finish against the Musketeers. The Friars spent most of the game down by double digits and even though Providence made a late run, they could not overcome Xavier.
vs. Georgetown on March 5th
Similar to Butler, the Georgetown Hoyas have not had as much success in the 2015-16 season. They suffered tough losses against perennial powers Maryland and Duke along with ones to less prestigious programs like Radford and Monmouth. Also similar to Butler, the Hoyas suffered a 5 point loss in their first matchup at home against Villanova. Georgetown could become a desperate team which will bring a sense of urgency that could make the Hoyas a tough team in their 2nd matchup against the Wildcats.
Unlike Butler, Georgetown has not been able to pick up any wins of late, as they have dropped 5 of their last 6 games and their only victory coming against lowly St. John’s. The loss of Bradley Hayes does not help the Hoyas but Georgetown does have two potential matchup problems for the Wildcats.
D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who has received many accolades during his four year career at Georgetown, could easily take over a game and lead the Hoyas to victory. Their second threat is newcomer, Jessie Govan, who could be a matchup nightmare for any team in the country. Standing at 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds, Govan could overpower the limited frontline of Villanova. Nevertheless, his more than capable of stepping out of the paint and hitting the 15-18 foot jumper.
Photo: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament