CINCINNATI (AP) No. 4 Villanova has clinched the top seed in the Big East tournament, the team to beat all season long in one of the nation’s toughest basketball conferences.
There’s still a lot at stake as the Big East opens the final week of the regular season.
Villanova (27-2, 14-2) has put itself in consideration for a top seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 in a row and are so good at shooting the 3-pointer that everyone – even unbeaten Kentucky – would rather avoid them.
A 78-66 win at Xavier on Saturday showed how formidable they’ve become.
”We played a solid 32 minutes, had what looked like a good win for us,” Xavier guard Myles Davis said, after Villanova rallied and pulled away in the final 8 minutes with defense and a flurry of 3s. ”They’re a good team and they proved it. They stuck with it.”
And they’re not the only good team in the Big East heading into tournament time.
Joining Villanova in the latest Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday were No. 21 Butler and No. 24 Providence. St. John’s and Georgetown got votes, meaning half the league earned consideration.
Seven of the 10 Big East teams have been ranked at some point during the season. DePaul and Marquette are the only teams that haven’t received poll votes during the season – Xavier got notice for three weeks.
Four Big East teams rank among the top 25 in the latest RPI, tied with the ACC for second-most of any conference. Only the Big 12 has more with five. The Big East ranks second in conference RPI, a reflection of its strength top-to-bottom.
In its second season as a reconfigured, basketball-only conference, the Big East has found its footing.
”I thought last year in our league, we had good young teams,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. ”This year, those teams got older.”
And much better.
Butler had to overcome the loss of coach Brandon Miller, who took a leave of absence for medical reasons in October. Assistant Chris Holtmann has filled in and kept the Bulldogs (21-8, 11-5) right behind in the conference race.
Providence (20-9, 10-6), Georgetown (18-9, 10-6), St. John’s (20-9, 9-7) and Xavier (18-12, 8-9) also are looking at NCAA tournament bids as they get ready for the conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, which starts Wednesday, March 9 with the four lowest-seeded teams playing.
The Musketeers figure they’re on solid footing if they win their final regular season game on Saturday at Creighton, and then at least one more in the conference tournament.
”I think definitely think we need to win this game,” Xavier’s Davis said. ”I don’t want to feel that if we don’t win it, that’s it. But we need to beat Creighton.”
Villanova needs to make a strong closing push as well in order to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats, who close with a game at Creighton on Tuesday and at home against St. John’s on Saturday, feature a starting lineup with two seniors and three juniors.
The Wildcats went 29-5 last season, losing to eventual national champion UConn in the NCAA tournament. They’re experienced and know what it takes to pull out games at the end.
”You find a way, after playing together for a while, to finish games,” Wright said. ”I think that’s our greatest strength. At halftime, we don’t have to adjust anything. We just tell our guys let’s focus on these things that we have to do better, and they go it because they’ve been there before. These guys have been in so many big games.”
Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay