Happy Monday Nova Nation! Football is over, and the eyes of the sports world will now begin to turn to basketball. No, they’re not quite on the NCAA yet, they need to take that pesky pitstop over at the NBA All-Star game. But fans are starting to at least pay attention to who are the top teams in college basketball?
Two of those teams will be going head to head tomorrow at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center as the Providence Friars take on the Villanova Wildcats. Even more importantly, this game could very well decide the Big East Regular Season Champions.
Currently the Friars sit two games ahead of Villanova in the loss column. The losses are important because Providence has missed three more games this season than Villanova, and so the Regular Season Championship will be decided by Win %. Basically that means if Providence finishes with fewer losses than Villanova, they win. If Villanova finishes with fewer or the same number of losses as Providence, they win. The rest of the conference sits at least four losses back of Providence, so this is really just a two horse race.
With both teams having five games left on the season, including playing each other twice, both teams technically control their own destiny. If Providence wins tomorrow, they’d have to lose three of their last four games to not win the title. For Villanova, a win Tuesday pulls them within one game of the Friars. That would set up another huge showdown on March 1st, where the title may be on the line. To put it simply, Providence needs to win one of two games against Nova, while Villanova needs to win out.
Beyond the title implications, there’s an interesting side story going on with Providence, thanks in no small part to KenPom.com. That would be the thought that Providence is “Lucky”. Unlike second place Villanova, the computer rankings down’t love the Friars. Even in the NET Rankings, Providence ranks 29th to Villanova’s 6th. That’s because of of the metrics heavy rankings like KenPom (47th), BPI (39th), and Sagarin (32nd), all have them outside the Top 30. All of that said, Providence is still 21-2 on the season, 5-1 in Quad 1, and 10-2 in Q1&Q2. This is a good team, they just play (and win) in a lot of close games.
That’s where the “Luck” has come in. KenPom has a metric called “Luck” that factors in how many close late games have gone a team’s way. The thought behind the stat is that there are some elements of college basketball in late game situations that you just can’t control, and so naturally you’re likely to win some and lose some. Providence has won every single game in which the final score was within two possessions, tying them with 2008 Wagner as the highest “Luck” metric KenPom has ever had on a season.
Honestly though, this is a little deceiving. It’s not that Providence is winning every game this way, it’s only happened nine times. They’ve only one by a single possession three times on the season, and that includes their lone OT game on the year against DePaul on Saturday (although that’s not something to be proud of). For some perspective, Villanova ranks 147th in “Luck” with six games decided by two possessions or less. They have a 4-2 record in two possession games, and are 1-1 when the final score is decided by three points or less.
At the end of the day, this thing isn’t going to come down to luck as much as it’ll come down to refs. This will easily be the most insane crowd Villanova has faced all season. On top of that, both teams want to play slow and grind out the game. And both teams are good at shooting free throws. The difference is that Providence is exceptional at getting to the line. The Friars rank 10th in the country in free throw rate, and the guy that gets there the most (167 times this year) in Al Durham shoots 84% from the stripe. The Wildcats are pretty good at playing defense without fouling, ranking 57th in defensive free throw rate. But factor in the atmosphere and the stakes, it will take a lot for players to remain in control on defense.
Bottom line, it should be an epic game on Tuesday night... on CBS Sorts Network!?!?
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