Busting Brackets

Big East Basketball: Conference remains propped up by Villanova

PITTSBURGH, PA - MARCH 17: DiVincenzo /

Big East basketball entered the NCAA Tournament with lots of hope. With only one team making the Sweet 16, that hope now solely lies with Villanova.

With six teams receiving bids to the NCAA Tournament, Big East basketball had high hopes for March. While most of them landed in the No. 7-10 seed range, the conference was privileged to have two teams sit on the No. 1 line. Despite going 4-2 in the opening round as a conference, the Big East is down to just one team in the Sweet 16. Because of this, the hopes of the entire league rely on one team: Villanova.

But let’s be real. Is this all that surprising? Since the inception of the “new” Big East in 2013-14, Villanova has been the only powerhouse. Xavier and Butler have made their respective runs to the Sweet 16 but nobody has been able to touch Jay Wright‘s squad in terms of success. Over the past five seasons, Villanova has come away with four regular-season conference titles and four conference tournament championships. Oh, and they have that national championship as well.

With Virginia knocked out of the remaining field, the Villanova Wildcats should be the favorite to win the national championship. They are by far and away the most complete team left thanks to their balanced offensive attack and ability to lock down on defense. Unlike other teams in the Sweet 16, the Wildcats had absolutely no issue with their opening weekend games, demoralizing the hopes of both Radford and Alabama in 20+ point victories.

In the NCAA Tournament, though, balance can only take teams so far. As the competition gets stiffer, the scores will be tighter in the closing minutes. This is where the importance of having a “go-to-guy” comes in. Thankfully, Villanova has two of those alpha-dog players who can go get their own baskets in must-score situations.

For starters, Jalen Brunson has arguably been the best player in college basketball this season. The ‘Nova point guard represents efficiency to the highest degree. Brunson averaged 19.1 points during the regular season while shooting 61.3% inside the 3-point arc and 42.0% from beyond it. His playmaking ability is also highlighted by dishing out 4.7 assists to just 1.7 turnovers per game. Of course, it helps that the Big East Player of the Year has a running mate that is just as spectacular.

Mikal Bridges is going to be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft in just a few months. With his ridiculous size and length, Bridges is a matchup nightmare at the collegiate level. He has the defensive abilities to lock down any wing in the country while also aggressively asserting himself on offense. The junior forward averaged 18.0 points and 5.4 rebounds per game throughout the regular season. In similar fashion to Brunson, a calling card of Bridges’ game is efficiency (59.1 2P%, 44.2 3P%).

The head coach of the Wildcats, Jay Wright, exemplifies his entire team. Wright is pure class, exhibiting sportsmanship both on and off the court. While some teams go about their business making headlines with their electric play or fiery head coach, Villanova does the opposite. They quietly play their own game and make headlines by simply being the best team in the country.

For Big East fans everywhere, there is no better team to root for than the Wildcats during the rest of the NCAA Tournament. They represent the conference extremely well and bring in revenue for the entire league with each win along the road to the national title. For most arguments, postseason success is the barometer for conference rankings. If Villanova cuts down the nets in San Antonio, Big East basketball will once again take a step forward.

Next: Ranking the Sweet 16

While it would have been better to see teams like Xavier, Butler, and Seton Hall join ‘Nova in the Sweet 16 this season, this is still a solid scenario to be in as a league. Big East basketball fans should be happy knowing that their championship hopes rely on a team as talented as Villanova.

Given my luck, the Wildcats will flop against West Virginia in the Sweet 16 and I will have jinxed their hopes. For now, though, the Big East still has a team to cheer for.