Villanova Looking Like Team to Beat in New-Look Big East Conference

villanovaThe Big East Conference has led college basketball in bids to the NCAA Tournament for the past few years, but that certainly will change this spring. Because of football-based realignment, the Big East only stands as a basketball conference these days. Original Big East schools Villanova, Providence, Georgetown, St. John’s, Marquette, Seton Hall and DePaul are now joined by Butler, Creighton and Xavier.

Heading into the season, Georgetown was the 9-4 conference favorite at Bovada followed by Creighton (5-2), Marquette (3-1) and Villanova (5-1), but the Wildcats will be the new favorites when updated odds are released before conference play begins Dec. 31.

Villanova (10-0) is the lone unbeaten team left in the conference and the only team in the AP Top 25 at No. 8 — Nova wasn’t ranked in the preseason. The school hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2010 and hasn’t won multiple games in the Big Dance since losing to North Carolina in the 2009 Final Four. The Wildcats barely snuck into last season’s NCAA Tournament and lost their first game as a No. 8 seed against No. 9 UNC.

Coach Jay Wright‘s team has two impressive wins thus far. They upset then-No. 2 Kansas 63-59 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament on Nov. 29 then dumped No. 23 Iowa 88-83 in overtime in the championship game.

Villanova goes nine deep most nights, but its Big 3 is forward JayVaughn Pinkston (16.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and guards James Bell (16.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) and Darrun Hilliard (14.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg). Villanova, a very good rebounding team (14th nationally), is now 33-1 to win the national title, the lowest odds of any Big East team. It will be tested in a big way Dec. 28 at No. 2 Syracuse, which will have live betting at the book. The Wildcats open Big East play Dec. 31 at Butler.

Georgetown (7-2) has a big game Saturday at Kansas, which has dropped to No. 18, and that also will have live betting. The Hoyas have won six straight since a shocking loss to Northeastern. That includes a quality victory over then-No. 10 VCU, the Atlantic-10 favorite. As usual, the Hoyas are one of the nation’s better defensive teams.

UCLA transfer Joshua Smith has made a big presence in his first season with the Hoyas. The 6-foot-10, 340-pounder is averaging 14.1 points on .708 shooting (third nationally) in just 20.7 minutes per game. Georgetown has dropped to 100-1 to win the national title.

Creighton has All-American and likely Big East Player of the Year Doug McDermott, a lock first-round pick in the 2014 draft. He’s second nationally in scoring at 25.3 points per game. The Bluejays’ best win has been against Arizona State, but they host a solid California team Sunday. Creighton, one of the nation’s most efficient offensive teams, is 75-1 to win the national title.

Perhaps the most surprising team thus far has been Providence (9-2); the team is led by preseason first-team All-Big East Bryce Cotton (18.8 ppg). The Friars haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2004 and haven’t won a game since 1997. Providence hasn’t beaten a quality team yet but can Dec. 28 at No. 22 UMass before opening Big East play.

Photo via Facebook/Villanova University Athletics

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