It's going to be very difficult for any of the Big East teams to knock off Villanova in this year's conference tournament.
That annual right of passage begins March 8 at Madison Square Garden, and the championship game will be contested March 11 at the famed arena.
The Wildcats are the defending national champions, and they finished the regular season with a 15-3 conference record and a 28-3 overall mark.
While the second-place Butler Bulldogs are a very solid team and appear good enough to provide a challenge to the Wildcats, Villanova has too much talent, experience and athleticism to come up short in the end.
The Wildcats ended their regular season in strong fashion with an 81-55 road victory over disappointing Georgetown (14-17, 5-13). Kris Jenkins scored 19 points against the Hoyas, and he believes his team is rounding into its best shape at the most important time of the year.
''I just feel like we're getting better, and as long as we continue to get better and play Villanova basketball, we'll accept the results of any game,'' Jenkins said after the game, per the Associated Press (via Stats LLC, h/t CBS Sports).
|Big East Tournament Bracket|
|March 8||7 p.m.||St. John's (8)||Georgetown (9)||FS1|
|March 8||9:30 p.m.||Xavier (7)||DePaul (10)||FS1|
|March 9||Noon||Villanova (1)||8/9 Winner||FS1|
|March 9||2:30 p.m.||Marquette (4)||Seton Hall (5)||FS1|
|March 9||7 p.m.||Butler (2)||7/10 winner||FS1|
|March 9||9:30 p.m.||Providence (3)||Creighton (6)||FS1|
|March 10||6:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||FS1|
|March 10||9 p.m.||TBD||TBD||FS1|
|March 11||5:30 p.m.||TBD||TBD||Fox|
Josh Hart is leading the way for Villanova, as he is averaging 18.6 points per game and shooting 50.6 percent from the floor. Jalen Brunson is also making a big contribution with 14.7 points per night while connecting on 54.1 percent of his shots. Jenkins is the team's third-leading scorer with an average of 13.2 points per game.
Butler (23-7, 12-6) handed Villanova two of its three defeats this season, and the Bulldogs have to be taken seriously as a team that can push the Wildcats to the limit.
Junior forward Kelan Martin is a force for the Bulldogs, and he brings it every night and is averaging 16 points per game. He is getting plenty of help from Andrew Chrabascz and Kamar Baldwin, who are both averaging in double figures.
If the two top seeds meet in the championship game, it may be difficult for Butler to gain a third win over Villanova, but the game should come down to the final minutes.
If any Big East team is going to cause problems for Villanova and Butler, it is likely to be the Providence Friars (20-11, 10-8).
Providence rolled to an 86-75 victory over St. John's (13-18, 7-11) Saturday, and that was the Friars' sixth straight win. Providence displayed a balanced attack against the Red Storm, as Isaiah Jackson led the way with 18 points while Alpha Diallo and Jalen Lindsey both scored 17.
Rodney Bullock has been the Friars' leading scorer this year, as he is averaging 16.5 points per night and also pulling down 6.5 rebounds each game. Emmitt Holt is averaging 12.2 points per game in support of Bullock and connecting on 51.2 percent of his shots.
Creighton (23-8, 10-8) also figures to come through with a strong effort in the tournament, but the Blue Jays have been struggling down the stretch, as they've lost five of their last eight regular-season games.
If Creighton is going to wake up from its late-season slumber, it will almost certainly be the result of a strong effort by junior guard Marcus Foster. He is the team's leading scorer with an average of 18.8 points per game. Freshman center Justin Patton is also a force, as he is second on the team with an average of 13.1 points per game while shooting 69.2 percent from the floor.
The Big East has long been known for its depth, and it would not be a shock if one of the middle-tier teams in the conference made a run at the title.
Since Providence is the hottest team in the league, the Friars could emerge as that team, and head coach Ed Cooley could inspire his players to a sensational effort.
Still, it's difficult to see Providence getting by either of the top two seeds in the tournament, let alone both.
Butler wants to show that its two wins over Villanova were not flukes, and it should be anxious to get to the championship round.
That's exactly where 'Nova head coach Jay Wright and his players say enough is enough and respond with a win in the championship game. That should allow the defending champions to go into the NCAA tournament as a No. 1 seed.