Courtesy of Villanova Athletics
Following Villanova basketball’s gut-wrenching loss to current first ranked Baylor on Sunday, the ninth ranked Wildcats are 7-3 in non-conference play with one game remaining against Temple on Dec. 29. Between now and then, the team begins Big East conference play, signaling an even more difficult challenge than the past two months.
The Big East has been hot this season so far, with every team playing well. Over the nonconference slate, the Big East is 88-23, winning nearly 80 percent of games played. Some of these wins have included Villanova’s beating of ranked Tennessee, Seton Hall’s win over top-10 ranked Texas, UConn’s double overtime defeat of ranked Auburn and Marquette and Xavier’s stunners against Big Ten foes Illinois and Ohio State.
Leading the Big East in the newest Associated Press Top 25 poll is Villanova at number nine with a record of 7-3. The ‘Cats are the only team in the top 25 with three losses, let alone the top 10. Although the Wildcats have three losses, those three losses came to three of the current top four teams, two of which the ‘Cats held a solid lead for a portion of the game. The difficult non-conference schedule, possibly the most challenging in program history, has prepared the team for an always challenging Big East slate.
Following the Wildcats come the 9-1 Seton Hall Pirates, ranked 16th. The Pirates have been off to a dominant start, especially considering their failure to make the tournament last year. Many questioned whether the Hall could make a comeback, and those questions have surely been answered. With arguably the second most difficult schedule in the Big East, the Pirates’ only loss comes to Ohio State who sits just ahead of them. It is just not the solid loss that should be recognized, however, as the Hall shocked then-fourth ranked Michigan and then-seventh ranked Texas. Senior guard Jarod Rhoden has been crucial for the Pirates, averaging 17.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. The Pirates are likely the biggest threat to Villanova in conference play, and the ‘Cats will travel to Seton Hall on Jan. 1.
The UConn Huskies come a few spots behind the Hall, ranked 20th. The 9-2 Huskies’ two losses have come to current 12th ranked Michigan State and West Virginia. While UConn’s schedule has not been all that challenging, a big win over 13th ranked Auburn was crucial to keeping the team in high regard. The Huskies, who were upset in the first round of March Madness last season, have yet to prove they are a team that can compete on the highest level. The Wildcats will not face UConn until early February.
Close behind comes Xavier with a record of 9-1, as it holds the 22nd spot in the poll. Xavier has been playing solid basketball, with its only loss coming to 11th ranked Iowa State in a nailbiter. Most impressive by the Musketeers has been their win against 15th ranked Ohio State, the same Ohio State that upset former top team Duke just a few weeks ago. Xavier has been beating its opponents in convincing fashion, proving they will be a contender for the conference title. The Musketeers are led by senior guard Nate Johnson and senior forward Jack Nunge. Johnson is averaging 13.4 points while shooting 47.5% from three thus far this season. Nunge, a seven footer, is averaging 13 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. ‘Nova faces Xavier at home on Dec. 21.
The Wildcats kick off Big East play by traveling to Creighton on Friday. The Bluejays, a team that has been under the radar for most of the season, only have two losses, both of which were against current Top 25 teams. Creighton also has a few marquee wins, including knocking Brigham Young out of the poll after an 83-71 win at home. Senior forward Ryan Hawkins has been the leader for the Bluejays, leading the team in points and rebounds. The team may not be ranked, but they will pose a challenge for Villanova in the first Big East game of the season. Tipoff is at 8 p.m. and the game will be televised on FS1.
The Big East has always been competitive, and by the looks of it that will hold true for this season yet again. The conference is anyone’s to win.