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College Basketball State of the Big East Betting Report: Checking in on 6 Challengers to Villanova

College Basketball State of the Big East Betting Report: Checking in on 6 Challengers to Villanova article feature image

Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Al Durham & Justin Minaya (Providence)

As we have noted in our previous check-ins with the Big East, this conference runs through Villanova year after year. Since the league was re-shuffled in 2014, the Wildcats have won six outright Big East titles, shared a seventh and only failed to finish atop the conference standings once.

With Villanova once again among the best teams in the nation — it is currently ranked seventh by KenPom — the Big East will again be dictated by the Wildcats.

For any other program to win the conference, or even earn your futures bet to do so, there is a check list that they will need to meet:

  1. Beat Villanova, at least once: If you don’t beat the Wildcats in your home building, you’re going to need to rely on other people to do your dirty work for you. Interestingly, when Xavier won the conference outright in 2018, the Musketeers did not meet this criteria, as they were swept by Villanova but got lucky with Villanova’s other losses. That isn’t likely to happen again.
  2. Sweep the bottom feeders in the conference: You aren’t going to win the Big East — or any conference for that matter — by dropping games to the teams at the bottom of the standings. In this year’s Big East, that means going 6-0 against Butler, Georgetown and DePaul.
  3. Hold your own against the other contenders: No one will need to run the table to win the Big East, but if you aren’t winning big games to keep your conference record under four or five losses, the top seed at MSG isn’t in your future.

With that rubric in mind, let’s peak at Villanova’s challengers to see where they currently stand.

Providence Friars

The surprising Friars are currently second in the conference standings and tied for the second-best odds to win the Big East. For a team that started the season 85th in KenPom’s rankings, that is quite the climb already.

The Friars won’t meet Villanova until February 15th and have potentially the oddest (and most fortuitous) schedule among this list of contenders.

Providence has two games that were removed from the schedule due to COVID protocols, and those games were both road dates against tough opponents, Seton Hall and Creighton. Without those games on the schedule, Providence’s path looks a lot more reasonable.

The Friars’ current schedule only lists five more road games, three of which come against teams struggling in Big East play. Assuming the league can find an opening for the Friars to head to Newark and Omaha — especially if those games are wedged into the current schedule and eliminate rest days — the Friars’ chances seem less plausible.

Xavier Musketeers

The Musketeers have always struggled with the top item on our checklist. Since joining the Big East, Xavier is 2-14 against Villanova. That is not a recipe to compete for conference championships.

That trend continued this year, with Xavier already losing both games against Villanova.

Otherwise, the Musketeers have held serve and are tied for the second-best odds, per DraftKings, at +700.

I’d like to see Xavier perform on the road before wagering on its chances. Upcoming trips to Marquette, Creighton and Seton Hall should provide tough tests that will prove if Xavier is able to hold a spot near the top of the standings.

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Creighton Bluejays

The Bluejays are the only team in the Big East that can proudly check the first item off our To Do List. Creighton not only beat Villanova at home, but did so soundly. That win announced Creighton as a possible contender in the conference.

Since then, Greg McDermott’s squad has had a tougher go. The Bluejays needed two overtimes to win at Marquette and then dropped road games at Xavier and Villanova. All things considered, those are fairly acceptable losses.

What isn’t acceptable is Creighton’s penchant for turning the ball over. After 21 turnovers on Saturday at Xavier (which helped squander a first-half Creighton lead), the Bluejays rank 315th in the nation in turnover rate.

As far as our rubric goes, Creighton as a chance. The Bluejays beat Villanova and don’t have any real hindering losses on the slate so far.

Playing like they have, however, won’t be good enough against fellow contenders. If the turnover problem improves or regresses, the Bluejays are intriguing at +1800. If not, they’ll remain in the middle of the pack.

UConn Huskies

If you like Connecticut’s chances — currently listed at +750 — jump on them now before that price dips in the coming weeks.

The Huskies are 2-2 in Big East play, but have a juicy schedule ahead. They will play a home-and-home with Butler followed by games against Georgetown and DePaul. Even a home date with Creighton should be a win before the competition ratchets up.

The Huskies also get a nice schedule quirk in their match-up with the Wildcats. UConn will play Villanova as the third game on a home stand, with Danny Hurley’s Huskies not needing to travel for over a week leading up to that critical game.

If there’s a team that has value at its current number, it’s likely UConn. The Huskies should remain near the top of the standings for a while.

Marquette Golden Eagles

The Golden Eagles are holding serve on the first two items on the check list. They haven’t gotten their crack at Villanova yet, but will travel to the Philadelphia area for their road date with Jay Wright’s crew this week.

Marquette also hasn’t dropped any games to the bottom feeders. Marquette’s issue has been the third item on the checklist. The Golden Eagles started Big East play with three straight losses to Xavier, UConn and Creighton, leaving them with a massive hole to overcome.

Recent wins over Providence and Seton Hall help a lot, but the schedule gets brutal in the coming weeks. Marquette is slated to play six straight against KenPom top-50 teams, four of which will come on the road.

If Marquette is going to have a chance to contend for the conference title, we’ll find out in the coming weeks.

Seton Hall Pirates

The Pirates had their chance to knock off Nova — bringing the Wildcats to the wire in Newark — but Villanova prevailed. Since then, Seton Hall hasn’t looked like the same team that beat Michigan and Texas earlier this season.

Back-to-back road losses at DePaul and Marquette are enough to doom the Pirates’ title chances this year and leave them in serious need of a bounce-back win.

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