Two Weeks Remaining: Assessing Big East Regular Season Title ContendersPosted by Todd Keryc on February 21st, 2014
The latest NCAA Tournament bracket projections put somewhere in the neighborhood of four to six Big East teams in the Big Dance. Xavier is on the inside looking out for the moment, with help from a big non-conference win over Cincinnati. Providence, St. John’s and Georgetown are all hovering on the bubble, their respective fates certain to be determined over the season’s final few weeks. Creighton and Villanova are the only total locks, each heading for top four seeds and possible protected first-week locations barring a late collapse.
While many eyes are focused solely on the Big East bubble (which will ultimately make or break the realigned conference’s debut) the regular season champion remains very much in doubt. It’s all but certain that either Creighton or Villanova will claim it, but they are about to begin a two-week sprint to the finish. Sure, teams are remembered for what they do in the NCAA Tournament but a banner will be hung somewhere for winning the Big East regular season, so let’s assess which team has the advantage down the stretch. In the preseason poll, the pair were picked to finish third and fourth, respectively — yet they have dominated this maiden Big East season. Villanova is 11-2 in conference play, with both losses coming against Creighton. The Bluejays are 12-2, with only a pair of road losses, as well as the clear conference (and likely national) Player of the Year, Doug McDermott, and that pair of dominant performances against Villanova.
Creighton has four games remaining, two at home and two on the road. First up is a home game against Seton Hall this weekend, a game it should handle with relative ease. The final three, however, present a gauntlet of sorts. They must go to both Xavier and Georgetown, two difficult places to win and games that will present each opponent with a huge chance to score a bubble-changing victory. Then Creighton finishes the season at home against Providence, one of the two Big East teams they have lost to this season. Each team has seen Creighton’s high-powered offense already this season and each team needs a marquee win. The Bluejays could run the table here, but if one of these teams can find a way to slow down Doug McDermott, it would be less than shocking to see the Bluejays drop one along the way.
Then there is Villanova. Undefeated against every Big East team not named Creighton, the Wildcats have five games remaining and none of them involve McDermott or Ethan Wragge. The good news for the Wildcats is that four of their five games are at home. The bad news is four of the five are also key games for their opponents. Villanova welcomes St. John’s, the hottest team in the conference, to Philadelphia this weekend. A win for the Johnnies would make them the only team to knock off both of the Big East co-leaders and would help solidify a possible NCAA Tournament berth for the streaking team. From there, Villanova faces Butler at home, a game it should win comfortably. The final three will come against Marquette (home), Xavier (road) and Georgetown (home). A win over Villanova by any of these three teams could potentially put them in the NCAA Tournament and they have all faced the Wildcats already this season (and lost). Much like Creighton, Villanova must be on high alert coming down the stretch against several hungry opponents. While Jay Wright’s team has been all business against everyone but Creighton, it is fair to expect one more hiccup along the way.
Both Creighton and Villanova already have a lot to be proud of this season and winning a league title should not be overshadowed by those teams who are fighting to play in the First Four in Dayton. While the NCAA Tournament’s one-and-done format puts the madness in March, these final two weeks can lead to something either Creighton or Villanova can cherish forever. And like the Madness, it may be just one off night that decides it.