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An Imperfect Ranking: Who prematurely dethroned the Villanova Wildcats?

One of the Big East coaches doesn’t think Villanova is the team to beat this year.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Mount St. Mary's v Villanova Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Last week was the Big East Media Day, and as expected the Villanova Wildcats were the overwhelming favorites as the preseason’s top ranked team in the annual coaches poll. Each year the coaches are asked to rank the other teams in the conference 1-9, without voting for their own team. For the last three seasons, Villanova has received a unanimous #1 overall selection with 81 points and 9 first place votes. However, when this year’s rankings came out, they had just 80 points and 8 first place votes.

That’s right, one of the Big East coaches doesn’t think Villanova is the team to beat this season. But who is the anonymous coach that has decided to end Villanova’s reign atop the Big East before a single game has been played? Have no fear, the super sleuths here at VUHOOPS are on the case! Let’s go through the rankings and size up the suspects.

#1 Villanova Wildcats (81 points, 8 first place votes)

Head Coach: Jay Wright

Because of how the poll works, Jay couldn’t pick the Wildcats. But since Villanova has been the unanimous #1 for the last three years, we know who Jay ranked first overall in those seasons. Last year he picked Xavier as the biggest contender for the title, while the previous two seasons he selected Georgetown.

This year, the other two teams receiving first place votes were Xavier and Seton Hall. Based on Jay’s previous picks, he usually takes a team that has senior leadership and All-Conference talent. That description fits Seton Hall perfectly, and my guess is that’s who Jay picked. So then who thought Xavier would be the team to beat over Villanova this season?

#2 Seton Hall (71 points, 1 first place vote)

Head Coach: Kevin Willard

The Pirates were the clear cut second team, and deservedly so. They almost knocked Nova out of the Big East Tournament for a second straight season, and they return a super talented senior class led by one of the contenders for Big East Player of the Year in Angel Delgado. Kevin Willard has drawn the ire of Wildcat fans for many years now, and I don’t think anyone would put it past him to take this kind of subtle jab at Wright.

It is possible that Williard would have picked Xavier because he couldn’t pick his own team and didn’t want to pick Nova, but I just don’t think that happened. This is the year that Willard actually has a legit shot at dethroning the Cats, and he’d want to get as much credit as possible if he was able to pull it off. As much as I’d love to paint him as the villain here, I think he’s clean... for now.

#3 Xavier (63 points, 1 first place vote)

Head Coach: Chris Mack

If my assumption that Wright voted for Seton Hall is correct, then Chris Mack is the only coach we can rule out because he can’t vote for himself. That said, if Wright voted for Xavier for a second straight season, Mack certainly has the motive to vote another team first overall.

For the last two seasons, Xavier has been dubbed the team that was supposed to give Villanova a run for the league title. For the last three seasons, Villanova has wiped the floor with Xavier on the main line, winning by an average of 20+ points per game. After last season’s loss, Mack described it in the post game press conference as their “annual butt-kicking” (he didn’t say butt). That kind of frustration doesn’t just go away. He may not be the prime suspect, but he’s on the list.

#4 Providence (59 points)

Head Coach: Ed Cooley

Sorry, but Cooley is too cool to pull something like this. His team is good enough to win any game they play in this year, and this move doesn’t fit his style. If Cooley wanted to pick a fight with you at a bar, he’d say lets take this outside, not sucker punch you when you’re not looking. Not only that, he’s openly talked about his respect for Jay’s program and how good his teams are. Class and brass, too much respect for the Friars’ coach to put this on him. He’s cleared.

#5 Creighton (48 points)

Head Coach: Greg McDermott

Gone are the days when Dougie McBuckets and Ethan “Make It Rain” Wragge lit Villanova up in the regular season, and even then coach McDermott finished behind Wright for the league crown. Last year was looking like Creighton’s year to challenge until injury and scandal took them down a notch. After being handled in the BET Championship by the Wildcats last year, McDermott has motive and opportunity. Add him to the list.

#6 St. John’s (36 points)

Head Coach: Chris Mullin

During his playing days, Mullin had to suffer through Georgetown being declared the kings of the Big East, and all he could do was wait to play them to prove otherwise. Now as the Johnnies’ head coach, in his own city no less, he has to hear the same thing about a Villanova team that beat him five straight times in his first two seasons. But this time, there is something he could do about it. Mullin gets added to the list.

#7 Marquette (34 points)

Head Coach: Steve Wojciechowski

While he does come from the Krzyzewski school of mind games and hard to spell lest names, I think Wojo stays clean on this one. He already proved he can beat the Wildcats where they’re the #1 team in the country, no reason not to rank them #1 now and try to beat them again. Key word there was “try”.

#8 Butler (32 points)

Head Coach: LaVall Jordan

Jordan is the real wildcard of this group. He’s the youngest Big East coach and at 38 he’s the only one under 40. He’s new to the league and hasn’t experienced the Wildcats up close yet. There’s not enough to convict here, but this one’s fishy. He goes on the list.

#9 Georgetown (15 points)

Head Coach: Patrick Ewing

Guilty! Guys, hold on, I haven’t even Guilty! I know there’s a history here but GUILTY! Let’s at least go over the GUILTY! Look I agree that there’s every reason to GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY!

...Ewing goes on the list.

#10 DePaul (13 points)

Head Coach: Dave Leitao

DePaul is still celebrating the fact that they’re still in the Big East AND somehow got Chicago to pay for them to build a shiny new stadium. They’re not doing anything to upset this gravy train. Leitao is cleared.

So Who Done It!?!?

After reviewing all the facts of the case, I think we can eliminate a few people:

  • Cooley, Wojo, and Leitao were cleared
  • Willard and Mack have legitimate shots at the crown, so it wasn’t them.
  • Mullin and Ewing are too old school to pull some crap like this, and they would have picked an OG Big East team like Seton Hall, not Xavier
  • McDermott has too much mid-western charm

That leaves just one culprit... THE BUTLER DID IT!

This is Jordan’s way of walking into the school yard, picking the biggest guy there, and getting right in his face. Of course, as the conference’s youngin’, this is also a very passive aggressive way of doing that. It also fits that he’d pick Xavier #1 overall because as his team’s biggest in conference rival, he’d want them to be ranked as high as possible before taking them down.

Now sure, this is all conjecture, and I have no actual proof. But Butler beat us twice last year... so yeah, they did it. LET’S GO CATS!