Whether or not the Wildcats need to win any games in the Big East tournament this week is a matter for debate. They were firmly on the bubble for much of the last two months, but the latest projections tend to place them more on the safe side than not. That said, there are always a few snubs come Selection Sunday, and after sitting out from the postseason a year ago, the 'Cats are eager to re-emerge in the madness this month.
Whether they need it or not, wins in the Big East Tournament will be great resume and seeding boosters for the team that would like to erase the memories of some bad losses as well.
The good news is that, other than Notre Dame, Villanova has won a game against each of the schools in the lower-half of the Big East tournament bracket. They beat St. John's early in the season and if they beat them again on Wednesday night, they would move on to face Louisville in the quarterfinals, who they knocked off in the first of three big upsets at the Wells Fargo Center. The winner of that game would face either Marquette (who Villanova defeated at the Pavilion) or the winner of Notre Dame vs. either DePaul or Rutgers.
If this season's games would repeat themselves, then the chances of putting together a run to Saturday would be pretty good. The Big East tournament is never that predictable, however, it is a last-chance at glory and one of the college game's biggest spectacles — and this is the last real go-around for these schools, who will largely disperse to various other conferences starting next season.
Ken Pomeroy's Log5 statistical model doesn't think too highly of Villanova's chances of advancing very far, however. According to his numbers, Louisville has almost a 50% chance of taking the trophy at MSG on — which doesn't bode well for a school that would have to play them on Thursday to advance.
Villanova has a 64.6% chance of getting past St. John's and advancing to that game on Thursday, in a formula that likely doesn't likely account for the fact that Johnnies leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison is benched for the rest of the season. Nonetheless, though they are the favorites to play Louisville on Thursday, the statistics don't favor another stunning Wildcats upset over the Cardinals. KenPom.com gives the 'Cats just a 9.1% chance of repeating their earlier win and reaching the Semifinals.
They get just a 3.8% chance of reaching the Finals on Saturday. Winning it all, they would get just a 1.1% chance today.
Of course, a win over Louisville, would change all of those percentages for the better — but you'd have to get there first, and then you'd need to overcome an algorithm that clearly prefers the Cardinals' chances.
While the calculators might frown on the Wildcat's chances of Big East Tournament glory, pundits are a little higher on the little team that could. ESPN's Paul Biancardi, who notes something that statistics can't — a conference tournament means less to a team whose NCAA bid, and seeding, are all-but-sewn-up. Louisville won their share of the Big East regular season and will definitely receive an at-large bid, but for Villanova, that might not be so obvious.
Biancardi identified five types of teams that can make a run in their conference tournament: (1) teams playing well at the right time; (2) teams with experience; (3) teams with star power; (4) teams with depth; and (5) teams potent from 3-point range.
Villanova doesn't have a ton of experience, only one senior starts and the ball is often in the hands of a true freshman on offense. They don't have star power, though Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard have all been great this season, the team had no first team All Big East players and nobody truly has assumed the star-mantle of Scottie Reynolds. They might be playing well at the right time, and their win over Georgetown would certainly suggest that, but they are also capable of tremendously bad performances at the wrong times too (see: Hall, Seton). When it comes to 3-point shooting, Villanova is better off waiting for their shot.
What Villanova has, according to Biancardi, is depth. Nine guys are averaging double-digit minutes this season for Villanova. The ability to substitute, avoid injuries, and stay rested enough to maintain defensive intensity on back-to-back-to-back days is often the difference between teams that can advance to the final and those who fall short.
That may be especially-true for Villanova this season, trading primarily on a defense rated 29th in the country by KenPom (versus an offense ranked 85th), the 'Cats need to bring energy to defense for at least four nights in a row if they are going to win the whole thing. If you burn out your guys too quickly, they might not have any gas in the tank by Friday or Saturday.
Villanova can't overlook any opponent in New York City, but the 'Cats have a good chance to advance to play Louisville on Thursday. If they're going to go the distance, however, they will need to reach down deep and pull some of their Wells Fargo Center magic and execution into the "World's Most Famous Arena."
Update 1:04pm -- Bovada.lv puts Villanova's odds of winning the tournament at 25/1. They also reportedly have UConn (who will not participate due to a postseason ban) at 22/1.