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.
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.