When Kentucky lost on Tuesday, we knew that there would be a new No. 1 in Monday’s poll. With another week without a loss behind them, Kansas, Villanova and Syracuse all can argue their claim to be on top. Even Kentucky could make a case as they still only have one loss and handled red-hot Vanderbilt with ease on Saturday.
While some experts believe that Syracuse should even leap Villanova, and the Wildcats should be no higher than No. 3, here is why Villanova should be ranked first:
1) Villanova is undefeated in the best conference in the country
While their schedule in conference gets harder in February, the fact that Villanova stands at 8-0 in the Big East can not be forgotten. This is the best conference in America, and that was confirmed when a mediocre UConn team beat Texas and a Georgetown team that is no better than third in the conference, destroyed Duke, the class of the ACC.
The Wildcats continue to win, regardless of who is on their schedule. Anyone who watched Syracuse-DePaul yesterday knows that every game in the Big East is a difficult one, and to be undefeated this long in conference is noteworthy.
2) Villanova has not lost at full-strength this season
The lone Wildcat loss this season took place when Mouphtaou Yarou and Reggie Redding were sidelined. Both players are key rotation players and Villanova no doubt would have fared better against Temple with even one of them. Of the three other teams with one-loss that sit atop the ranking, none of them dealt with missing players of this nature in their defeat.
3) The Wildcats’ loss is better than everyone else’s
Villanova lost on the road to Temple, who even with their loss to Charlotte on Wednesday is ranked No. 14 in the RPI. Kansas fell to a depleted Tennessee squad on the road that had just suspended their best player Tyler Smith. Tennessee is currently No. 26 in the RPI. Syracuse lost at home to Pittsburgh, currently ranked No. 17 in the RPI. While Pittsburgh beat Syracuse on the road, they did not win at Seton Hall.
None of these are necessarily bad losses, but of all the defeats, Villanova’s is most understandable.
4) Villanova is playing the best right now
Let me run down the impressive statistics Villanova has put up lately:
- The Wildcats have won ten straight games.
- The team has scored at least 81 points in eight of their last ten games.
- Villanova ranks third in the nation with a scoring average of 85.2 ppg.
- The Wildcats have won ten straight and 19 of 21 regular season Big East games dating back to last season.
- The team has won seven straight Big East road games dating back to last season.
The case is there for Villanova. Add in that Kansas had its shot and that ranking Syracuse ahead of Villanova when they are behind them in the Big East is a bit nonsensical and that case gets stronger. Now we wait until tomorrow.
After a convincing win over Notre Dame (looks like we didn’t jinx them…), here are the links from The Villanovan, including the feature on Dante Cunningham. Also, check out the new website. It is still a work in progress but a vast improvement:
Kentucky’s loss to Devan Downey and South Carolina last night means that if Villanova wins tonight against Notre Dame, it will be ranked at least as high as No. 2 in the country in next week’s poll. However, there is a distinct possibility that they will be at No. 1 on Monday, as well.
Kansas, currently ranked No. 2, is the favorite to assume the top ranking on Monday. However, the Jayhawks have one of their most difficult remaining games on Saturday, when they will travel to Manhattan to take on Kansas State.
The possibility is there, but what does it mean? Well, being ranked No. 1 in February is nothing compared to be ranked No. 1 in April, but the excitement and recognition of being on top of the polls is a thrill for every school (just look at all the coverage Kentucky got for being No. 1 for exactly two days).
The reality is that barring something really special, Villanova will lose again this season. The window is small this year, and it may be the team’s best chance to grab the top spot. Tonight is step one against Notre Dame, and that is most important, regardless of ranking.
With Syracuse’s beatdown of Georgetown last night, the Hoyas now have lost to both Villanova and Syracuse. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh begins to fall back to reality, while West Virginia struggles to find the consistency to at point guard to make a serious run.
That leaves Villanova and Syracuse at the top, and barring anything unforeseen, these two teams will remain there, in some order, for the rest of the season. While Villanova’s 7-0 conference record slightly edges Syracuse’s 7-1, both team have at least ten games remaining on their schedule. So who finishes on top? Let’s take a quick look at both team’s remaining slate:
Possible losses: @GTown, @WV, @PITT, @SYR, vs. WV
Projected wins: vs. ND, vs. SHU, vs. Prov, vs. UConn, vs. USF, @CIN
Possible losses: @GTown, vs. NOVA
Projected wins: @DPU, vs. Prov, @CIN, vs. UConn, vs. LVille, @Prov, vs. SJU, @LVille
As we can see, Villanova has a significantly more difficult schedule the rest of the way than Syracuse does. The Wildcats have four games on the road remaining against top-17 teams. What Villanova has working for them is that they are essentially a game ahead of Syracuse and every road game on the Big East is difficult, making Syracuse’s trips to Cincinnati and Louisville possible tricky situations.
In the end, the conference’s regular season title will most likely come down to that Feb. 27 tilt between Villanova and Syracuse. A win for Villanova would mean that they could lose at least two other games and still finish in first. A loss would mean that the rest of the Wildcats difficult schedule will probably cost them the first seed in the Big East tournament.
The Wildcats took care of business again on Saturday, withstanding a strong effort from the Red Storm to improve to 18-1 and 7-0 within the conference.
After scoring just nine points against Rutgers, Scottie Reynolds led the way for Villanova with 19 points. The senior guard also wrecked havoc on the defensive end with three steals.
After easily disposing of Rutgers earlier in the week, this was a tougher test for Villanova, who trailed by as many as 10 points in the first half before heading into the break down by a point. A 44-point second half would be enough to overcome the deficit and cruise to victory.
Aside from Reynolds, it was two other members of the Villanova backcourt that carried the team. Junior guard Corey Fisher returned to New York City with 18 points and freshman guard Maalik Wayns made his Madison Square Garden debut with 16 points.
The Wildcats offense has been on fire lately, scoring at least 78 points in eight of its last nine games. Their next test will be a a game against Notre Dame this Wednesday at the Wachovia Center.
First issue of The Villanovan out today, and here are the links:
Just talked to Dante Cunningham in the Blazers locker room before tonight’s game. He had so many ticket requests in his return to Philadelphia that he had to shut his phone off.
Distractions aside, it is a admittedly big week for Cunningham, first returning to Washington, D.C. (not far from his hometown) and now being back in Philadelphia. He remains the same old Cunningham, looking extremely focused and talking about always trying to improve.
Big feature on Cunningham in next week’s Villanovan (Jan. 28), so look out for it.