Despite the Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball team’s successful past three seasons, the Wildcats opened the season poorly with two early losses in November. Recently however, the team has begun to pick up speed as the regular season nears its end. The Wildcats, who won the 2016 and 2018 NCAA National Championships, improved their ranking this week from fifteenth to twelfth in the nation as ranked by the Associated Press.
Despite ranking third in the Big East Conference behind Seton Hall University and Creighton University, the Wildcats are a favorite in the upcoming Big East Tournament that takes place later in the season from March 11 to March 14. Though both Seton Hall and Creighton boast higher in-conference win percentages than the Wildcats, they rank above both Seton Hall and Creighton nationally with a 19-6 record.
The Wildcats are two games behind the Seton Hall Pirates in the Big East conference with six in-conference games left in the regular season. They will play four games before facing Seton Hall on March 4 in Newark, N.J. The most recent of the Wildcats’ six losses this season comes from the Pirates on Feb. 8, where the Wildcats lost by a score of 64-70 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, P.A. Creighton University, currently right above Villanova in conference standings, are 1-1 with the Wildcats so far. This appears to be a trend for the Wildcats, as they have not lost to the same team twice this season. Aside from Seton Hall, the Wildcats have wins against all of the remaining teams in their schedule, giving them the opportunity to successfully obtain the number one spot in their conference.
Ultimately, as a favorite in the Big East Conference, the Wildcats have the chance to seize a bid into the March Madness tournament as they have for the last three years after winning the conference championships. The team’s recent jump in rankings, from fifteenth to twelfth after picking up wins against nineteenth ranked Marquette and Temple, indicated a key shift in momentum for the Wildcats. With a favorable schedule for the rest of the season, where the Wildcats will not play any teams ranked in the top 25 aside from Seton Hall, the Wildcats have the potential to enter March Madness ranked in the top sixteen, potentially higher than their current rank.
Currently 25 games into the season, Villanova’s key advantage appears to be its improvement as a young team. Of the fourteen players on the Wildcats’ roster, five are first years and four are sophomores. The Wildcats have had two first years in their starting five. With so many young players on the team, Villanova will not graduate any starters, giving the players the opportunity to improve and work together throughout the end of this season, into the postseason, and into next season. Already, the team has started to pick up more wins after a few early losses in the season. In addition to the underclassmen on the team, the Wildcats have four juniors and one senior, including some that were part of the team’s 2018 NCAA National Championship campaign.
Villanova holds the past three Big East Tournament titles, winning the conference in 2017, 2018, and 2019, against Creighton, Providence, and Seton Hall, respectively. With each, they have automatically secured their ticket to the NCAA tournament.
Though the Wildcats aren’t ranked in the top ten in the nation, they are still expected to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Only two years earlier, the Wildcats won the NCAA National Championship. If the Wildcats are able to improve to earn the eighth spot in the NCAA and make it to the Elite Eight, they will likely encounter top ranked Baylor University, who beat the Wildcats 78-87 in November. Still, the Wildcats have not lost to the same team twice this season, making a lengthy run into the NCAA tournament and another game against Baylor all the more likely.