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Battle For The Big East: The Home Stretch

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Villanova’s in the driver’s seat, but they’re by no means a lock to win the title

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova’s dominance over the Big East has been unprecedented. Well, at least in the Big East. Prior to Villanova’s four straight regular season titles, the best streak was Pitt with three, and even then they only won it outright once. The Wildcats have claimed sole possession of the title in each of the previous four seasons, and coming into this year they were expected to extend that streak to five.

However, standing in their way were arguably some of the best teams the Big East has had in a single season since conference realignment. Creighton was a dark horse contender, Providence was coming off an impressive end of season run, Seton Hall’s senior stars had all come back for one last shot at the title, and then there was Xavier.

Xavier, while only managing a single victory over Villanova since joining the Big East, now had the best team they’d had in years. They seemed to always be tagged as the team that could give Villanova a run for their money, but up until this season they hadn’t really followed through on it.

This year seemed like it was going to go the same way it always had, especially when Villanova torched the Musketeers early on in conference play. But then injuries resulted in some unexpected losses for the Wildcats, while Xavier kept finding ways to win close games. They eventually took over first place in the league, and this past Saturday they had a chance to essentially lock up their first Big East title.

Villanova had to beat Xavier to keep the goal of a 5th consecutive Big East Title alive. Mission accomplished. Now with four games remaining for the Wildcats and a tie in the loss column, they control their own championship destiny. Today we’ll break down the scenarios for a Big East Championship, even if Nova has to share the title.

A “Shared” Championship

The only real contenders remaining are Villanova and Xavier. Creighton and Providence are both mathematically still in it, but they would need to win out and have both Xavier and Villanova drop three more games each. That’s just simply not going to happen. So with just two weeks left in the regular season, the Wildcats and Musketeers are deadlocked atop the conference.

Despite what some uninformed Fox broadcasters may have led you to believe, there is no tie-breaker when it comes to the Big East Regular Season Championship. If Villanova and Xavier finish the season with the same record in conference play, they will be Co-Champions regardless of their head-to-head games. That tie breaker is only used to determine seeding in the Big East Tournament, and in that case the Wildcats would be the #1 Seed.

There have been a number of shared championships in Big East history. Villanova has been a Co-Champion three times before: 2006 (UConn), 1997 (Boston College and Georgetown), and 1983 (Boston College and St. John’s). A shared championship is no different than an outright championship in terms of keeping the streak alive, and as I’ve been telling my two-year old, it’s always better to share. ***Spoiler Alert: It’s Not!***

While Villanova could still be the champions if they and Xavier both lose another game, we’d all rather see the Wildcats win out to guarantee at least a share of the title. That means winning their four remaining games: vs DePaul, at Creighton, at Seton Hall, and vs Georgetown.

While no game is “easy”, the two road games will clearly be the most challenging of the home stretch for Nova. According to KenPom.com, winning at Creighton will be the toughest of the four. The site gives Villanova a 71% chance to win with a predicted score of 87-81. At Seton Hall will also be difficult with a 74% chance to win and a predicted score of 85-78. The two home games should go Nova’s way, with KenPom predicting over a 95% chance to win each.

Overall, this gives the Wildcats a 48.9% chance to win all four games. While that may seem low, it’s actually pretty high over that kind of stretch. To put it in perspective, here’s the “Win Out” percentages for the rest of the league:

Big East “Win Out” Chances

School Conf. Record Games Remaining Win Out %
School Conf. Record Games Remaining Win Out %
Villanova 11-3 4 48.9%
Xavier 12-3 3 42.4%
Butler 8-7 3 15.4%
Marquette 6-8 4 11.2%
Creighton 8-6 4 4.1%
Seton Hall 7-7 4 3.6%
Providence 8-6 4 2.5%
St. John's 3-11 4 2.4%
Georgetown 5-9 4 0.3%
DePaul 3-11 4 0.1%

Even with an extra game to play, Villanova still has a better chance to win the rest of their games than Xavier does. So with that in mind, is there a glimmer of hope that the Musketeers could choke and hand the Wildcats a fifth consecutive outright title?

An Outright Championship

It’s not impossible for Villanova to win the Big East outright, but they’d need Xavier to drop at least one of their last three in order for that to become a reality. According to KenPom, the best chance of that comes Wednesday night when they travel to Georgetown, but even then the Musketeers have a 70% chance to win the game.

When it comes down to it, there’s only a 28.1% chance that Villanova will win all of their remaining games and Xavier drops one down the stretch. I’m no betting man, but that doesn’t seem very likely. However, it’s more likely than the chances of the reverse happening. There’s only a 21.6% chance that Xavier wins out and Villanova drops a game.

But if it were to happen, and Nova was able to record a fifth consecutive outright title, that’d be a significant achievement. Not since UCLA in the 70’s has a team from a major conference won five consecutive solo titles. To be fair, Kansas also has a chance at winning their fifth consecutive outright championship as well, and that could be decided this weekend when they face off against Texas Tech this weekend.

Either way, another Big East Title would be just more evidence that we’re in the midst of the greatest era in Villanova basketball history. Its a great goal for the season, and something that the team can build off of. But let’s face it, at this point the expectations for the Wildcats are more than just conference championships. In fact, what another Big East title really would mean is that this team is ready for March.