To the shock of absolutely no one, this Villanova team has been setting records left and right this season. The latest came on Monday, when the senior class tied the 1987 Georgetown Hoyas class for the most career wins in the history of the Big East at 122. But setting records, even if they are for wins, has not been one of this team’s goals. All season they’ve been focused on three things: Win the Big East Title, Win the Big East Tournament, Win the National Championship.
Next up on that list is the Big East Title, which has become more a question if "when?" than "if?". The Wildcats are already the first team to ever win three consecutive outright Big East titles, but a fourth this season would break two records. Villanova would become the first Big East team to ever win four consecutive conference championships, and an outright title would set the new Big East record at five outright championships (currently tied with Georgetown at four). It would also give Jay Wright a Big East record fourth outright title, breaking his tie with legendary coaches Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun.
But this team isn’t focused on the records, they are focused on this season. In every press conference, the team and the coaches are just concerned with getting better for their next game and working toward their goals. They don’t want to win consecutive championships, they want to win THIS championship. And that kind of focus IS how you win consecutive championships. So with that in mind, let’s look at the path(s) the Wildcats have ahead of them to clinch the Big East Title over their next four games.
Monday’s win over DePaul eliminated Marquette, St. John’s, and Seton Hall from a shot at the title. They joined Providence, Georgetown, and DePaul who were already out of the running. That leaves the four favorites from the start of the season: Villanova (12-2), Xavier (8-4), Creighton (8-4), and Butler (8-5). Currently Creighton has the best shot at dethroning the Wildcats since Butler already has its 5th conference loss and Villanova holds the tie breaker over Xavier having swept them in the regular season.
Not only will Villanova need to lose at least 2 of their last 4 games for these other teams to have a shot, but those three will have to basically win out. That’s even tougher considering they all have more games than Villanova left to play. Again, Creighton has the best shot here with the "weakest" schedule, but they’d have to win out, including at Nova on senior night, and hope that the ‘Cats stumble somewhere else along the way. Xavier is about to start a three game road trip before facing Butler at home, and Butler closes out the season @ Xaver, @ Nova, vs Seton Hall.
The Magic Number
Villanova’s "magic number" as of this morning is 3. The magic number is the combination of a team’s wins plus their contender’s losses that would be needed for them to clinch a playoff spot, or in this case, the conference championship. With each Nova win or let’s say Creighton loss, that number goes down 1. If Nova loses or Creighton wins, the number stays the same.
Because there are still three contenders, Villanova technically has three "magic numbers". Butler has one more loss than the others, so their number is 2, while Creighton and Xavier are both at 3. You always go with the highest number, so Villanova’s magic number to win the Big East title is 3.
Note to those of you who want to really dive down the rabbit hole on this, Xavier’s 3* comes with an asterisk. Because they were swept by Nova, they would need another team that Nova didn’t sweep AND that didn’t also sweep Xavier to end the season as co-champions. That means that they’d need a three way tie with Nova and Creighton (Creighton also has to win at Nova), or a three way tie with Nova and Butler (Xavier also has to beat Butler later this year). The same applies to Nova's potential tie breaker over Creighton, and Butler's potential tie breaker over Nova. Tie breakers are fun!
Now there are a lot of scenarios out there of how Villanova could win. In fact, it could happen that Nova clinches the title on a day they’re not even on the court. But for the purposes of this run through, we’re going to focus just on how the ‘Cats could win the title with a victory. The one exception I’ll make is the first scenario, which is the soonest possible chance they have to clinch the outright Big East Title.
Clinch Outright This Weekend
For this to play out, Villanova would need a lot of help. First, tonight Creighton would have to lose @ Seton Hall and Xavier would also need to drop one @ Providence. Then on Saturday, Villanova would need to win @ Seton Hall and Xavier would have to lose again on the road @ Marquette. Somewhere in there, Butler would have to lose either vs DePaul tonight or vs St. John’s on Sunday. Lastly, on Sunday Creighton would have to lose its second game of the week vs Georgetown. It’s incredibly unlikely, but it is possible.
Clinch A Share @ Seton Hall
Similar to the scenario above, Creighton and Xavier would both need to lose tonight to give the ‘Cats a chance to celebrate their 4th Big East title on the court with a win in New Jersey. It should be noted that if Nova wins AND Creighton and Xavier both drop at least one game before the end of the weekend, Nova will also claim a share of the title.
Clinch A Share vs Butler
Nova’s first chance to clinch a share of the title at home comes at the Pavilion a week from today. If Villanova beats Seton Hall and the Bulldogs, regardless of what the other three teams do, they’ll clinch a share of the title. If they lose to Seton Hall but win at home, they’ll need Creighton and Xavier to each drop a game between then and now.
Clinch Outright vs Butler
Beating Butler alone will knock the Bulldogs out of contention for the Big East title, but Nova will still need some help to clinch outright next Wednesday. If Nova wins @ Seton Hall and vs Butler, they’ll need Creighton and Xavier to each drop a game between then and now. If Nova only wins one of those two games, the Blue Jays and Musketeers will need to drop two.
Clinch A Share vs Creighton
Even if Villanova drops one of its next two games, they could still clinch a share of the Big East title with a win at home vs. Creighton on senior night, Saturday the 25th. They could also be helped along with a couple losses from their opponents, but based on predictive analytics it’s likely that the Cat’s will have at least a share of the title by this point.
Clinch Outright vs Creighton
Pretty simple. If Villanova wins their next three games, they’re outright champions for the fourth consecutive season. Throw in a couple Creighton and Xavier losses, and they could be celebrating before tip-off. They could clinch outright if they had lost one or both of their previous games, but that would require some help.
Clinch A Share or Outright @ Georgetown
For this scenario to even be possible, Villanova will need to lose at least two of three, including vs Creighton on Senior night. In addition, Creighton will have had to win out. But a title is a title, and two wins out of Nova’s last four games would secure at least a share of their 4th consecutive Big East championship.
Again, it’s possible for Villanova to win the outright championship if they go 0-4 to close the season, but we all know that’s highly unlikely. To win outright at Georgetown, Villanova would have had to have some disappointing losses that the other contenders weren’t able to capitalize on. But no matter what, if Villanova wins 3 out of their last 4, they’re the outright champs.
No Big East Championship
It seems entirely unlikely at this point, but in order to miss out on this year’s Big East title, Nova would have to lose at least three of their last four games, and even then Creighton or Xavier would have to win out. This scenario is so unlikely, that even ESPN’s BPI gives Villanova a 99.8% chance to win at least a share of the conference championship.