Big East Tournament 2021: Conference’s Top Threats to Outlast Villanova

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMarch 7, 2021

Big East Tournament 2021: Conference’s Top Threats to Outlast Villanova

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    Villanova has been nearly impossible to beat in the Big East tournament in recent years. Before the 2020 tourney was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Wildcats had reached the championship game in five straight years, winning on four occasions.

    This season, Villanova is the No. 1 seed for the men's Big East tournament and could be poised to win it again. The tourney is set to get underway Wednesday at Madison Square Garden in New York, and the Wildcats won't be in action until Thursday's quarterfinals, when they will take on either Georgetown or Marquette.

    While neither of those teams is likely to take down Villanova, there are some others that could end the Wildcats' recent run of success. Villanova has lost four conference games this season, so it is possible for a Big East team to beat the Wildcats, even if they are strong. In fact, Villanova ended the regular season with two losses in three games, falling to Butler and Providence.

    Here's a look at several teams that could be a challenging opponent for Villanova in this year's Big East tournament.

Creighton (18-7)

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    Laurence Kesterson/Associated Press

    There are two Big East teams ranked in the AP Top 25 poll: No. 10 Villanova and No. 14 Creighton. The Bluejays are also one of the four conference teams to beat the Wildcats this season, notching an 86-70 home win Feb. 13. However, when the teams met again Wednesday, Villanova earned a 72-60 win on its home court.

    After that, Creighton bounced back to beat Butler 93-73 in its regular-season finale Saturday, finishing with a 14-6 record in Big East play to earn the No. 2 seed for the conference tournament. If the Bluejays are going to beat Villanova, it would have to happen in a championship game matchup.

    But Creighton has the potential to make a run to the end of the tourney. The Bluejays are a strong shooting team, as they led the Big East in both field-goal percentage (48.2) and three-point percentage (36.8) while ranking second in points per game (78.4).

    When Creighton beat Villanova, it shot 59.3 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from behind the arc. If the Bluejays face the Wildcats and get hot again, they could win the Big East tournament for the first time since they joined the conference in 2013.

UConn (14-6)

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    David Butler II/Associated Press

    UConn only played Villanova once during the regular season, but it was a competitive matchup. The Wildcats pulled away late for a 68-60 win on Feb. 20, but the Huskies only trailed by two points with a little more than nine minutes to go in the game.

    After that, UConn didn't lose again the rest of the regular season, ending on a four-game winning streak with victories over Georgetown (twice), Marquette and Seton Hall. The Huskies finished with an 11-6 conference record to earn the No. 3 seed in the Big East tournament.

    In order to get to a potential matchup with Villanova, UConn may have to defeat Creighton in the semifinals. The Huskies lost to the Bluejays twice in the regular season, falling 76-74 in overtime at home Dec. 20 and 74-66 on the road Jan. 23.

    But UConn could be peaking at the right time. And the Huskies are a strong defensive team (averaging a conference-best 65.2 points allowed per game), so they could have a strong tournament showing if they are able to shut down some of the conference's top offensive teams.

St. John's (16-10)

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    St. John's had some struggles to end February, losing three of its last four games in the month, but it bounced back with wins over Providence and Seton Hall to build some momentum for the Big East tournament. The No. 4-seeded Red Storm will face Seton Hall, the No. 5 seed, again in the tourney quarterfinals Thursday.

    If St. John's beats Seton Hall for the second time in six days, it will likely go on to face Villanova in the semifinals. The Red Storm and Wildcats split their two regular-season matchups. St. John's notched a 70-59 home win Feb. 3, then lost 81-58 at Villanova on Feb. 23.

    The Red Storm have a strong offense, as they led the Big East with 79.3 points per game. They are led by sophomore guard Julian Champagnie, who is averaging 19.9 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He's capable of putting up even bigger numbers on a given night, and he could be a key reason for St. John's having a strong tournament showing.

    Having not won the Big East tourney since 2000, the Red Storm will be looking to end a tournament title drought. But they are likely going to have to go through Villanova to do it, and that's never an easy task.