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The Big East Championship Race

Villanova is heading down the home stretch, and staying healthy will be just as important as picking up W's.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats are halfway through their Big East schedule and currently hold a half game lead over Butler in the conference standings. The good news is that half game is Butler’s loss over the weekend at home to Georgetown, leaving Nova as the only BE team with just two conference losses. With two of the contenders for the conference title losing key play makers (Watson for Creighton and Sumner for Xavier), it looks like a two team race down the stretch.

The analytics have Villanova as BIG favorites to win at least a share of the conference championship, which would be their fourth consecutive Big East Title. KenPom has Nova as the favorite in all of their remaining games, the closest being a 60% chance to win at Xavier (although that number hasn’t changed since Sumner went down). ESPN’s BPI predicts that the Cats have a 96% chance to win a share of the title. But this team doesn’t want to share the title, they want to win it out right.

So with that in mind, how does Nova’s schedule down the back end stack up? Which games do they NEED to win in order to secure their record setting 4th outright Big East title?  Here's a look at each of the team's remaining nine games.

Villanova Wildcats 20-2 (7-2), 1st in Big East

Three Toughest Remaining Games: @ Xavier, @ Seton Hall, vs Butler

The game at Xavier just got a little easier with Sumner going out for the season with a torn ACL, but it will still be a tough team to beat in their own stadium. Trevon Bluiett has put up 85 points in his last 3 games, so it’s not like they don’t have star power that can take over a game. Because it’s an away game, this is still the most likely spot for Villanova to drop one down the stretch.

Seton Hall got beat by 30 when they came to the Pavilion as the third stop in a week long road trip. Villanova will be in the same circumstance next month when they head to the Prudential Center for their third consecutive road game in 8 days. Seton Hall is the only team to have beaten Villanova in each of the last three seasons, and they’ll be looking to keep that streak alive on their home court.

But the biggest "Must Win" game remaining is Feb. 22nd when Butler comes to the Pavilion in a game that could decide who wins the Big East Title. The Bulldogs are currently 2nd in Big East standings, and would love to be the first team to de-thrown the ‘Cats after joining the conference in 2013. You have to believe that Nova will be fired up for this one, not just with the conference on the line but also the revenge factor as Butler handed them their first loss this season.

Three Potential Upsets: @ Providence, @ DePaul, @ Georgetown

A quick note, Nova will be favored in every game for the rest of the season, so everything’s an upset opportunity. These are games where Villanova is expected to win handily, but could lose a close one if things fell the wrong way.

Villanova did beat Providence once already at home in a game where they led by as many as 20 in the second half. But Providence showed that they can get hot, going on an 11-0 run to make the final score a more respectable 68-78. KenPom actually gives the Friars the same chance at taking down Villanova tomorrow as he gives Seton Hall, a reminder of how difficult it can be to win at "The Dunk".

DePaul gave the Cats a run for their money at the Pavilion with a narrow 65-68 game, so you’d think Nova would be ready for them. But this is one of those "perfect storm" games that will be a good test for Nova come tournament time. This will be a road game 2 days after a trip to Xavier, so it’s likely the team will stay out in the mid-west. The travel and quick turnaround will greatly resemble the NCAA tournament, even if the opponent doesn’t. Still, the potential for an upset is there.

Georgetown seems to be putting it together, albeit a little too late. They’re coming off back to back wins vs Creighton (minus Watson) and at Butler, so they’ve proved that when at their best they can be formidable. There’s a good chance this team isn’t making the NCAA’s without a run in the Big East Tournament, so their big game will be the season finale when Nova comes to town. The Cats will likely need a strong BET showing to lock up a #1 seed, but they better not overlook the Hoyas in the last game of the regular season. However, if this is the game that would lock up the Big East Title, no chance the Cats lose.

The Home Games: vs St. John’s, vs Georgetown, vs Creighton

In Jay Wright’s previous 15 seasons at Villanova, only once (2014-15) has he gone an entire season without losing a single home game. With just four left on the schedule, Butler and the three above, the Cats are closing in on a really special regular season.

Last year St. John’s gave Nova a close one at the Wells Fargo Center, and despite the final score this year’s game at MSG was also closer than expected. Given the rant Jay went on about being out-played and out-hustled, it’s hard to imagine that the team won’t be ready for a prime time game on Saturday night.

Again, Georgetown just beat Butler on the road, so they have the capacity to take you down if you’re not on your game. The Hoyas are the only Big East team Villanova hasn’t played this season, but they should match up well against their biggest conference rival.

The final home game of the season, and likely senior night at the Pavilion, will be against Creighton. The Blue Jays have been in a bit of a tumble since losing their star point guard Mo Watson. While they’re still a tournament team, they’re far from the title contenders Villanova faced on New Year’s Eve. This game could also be Nova’s potential clincher for the Big East title, not that they’ll need more motivation.