Is it fair? That’s a central question involving Villanova these days on all sorts of basketball fronts. Let’s offer some answers and some opinions. Warning: ‘Nova fans won’t like all the answers or opinions.
Does Providence really deserve to win the Big East regular season?
In a word, sure. The Friars locked up the regular-season title and tournament top seed despite having three Big East games canceled because of COVID-19 protocols within the Providence program.
Where plenty of Villanova fans cry foul is that two of the three games were on the road, at Creighton and Seton Hall, and the third game was a tough one too, against Connecticut. If the Friars (24-3, 14-2) had lost any of the three, Tuesday’s Providence-Villanova game at the Finneran Pavilion could have been for the top spot.
This is all luck of the draw. Villanova (21-7, 14-4) could have been in the same position. We’re told that Big East schools and leadership agreed that if all games weren’t made up, the standings would be determined by winning percentage. That now favors Providence, even if the Friars lose Tuesday. There were attempts to reschedule those three games, but efforts also ran into other league parameters, such as not having three games in a week for consecutive weeks.
Bottom line: Fair is a relative term. If Villanova had beaten Marquette at home, the Wildcats would be in a different position.
So Tuesday’s game is meaningless?
Nope, it has all sorts of meaning beyond hanging a banner. Right now, ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has Villanova as a No. 3 NCAA seed and Providence as a No. 4 seed. A Villanova victory would further strengthen that position, with the Big East tournament also factoring in.
Why is that important?
Keeping a No. 3 seed would mean Villanova would have a shot at playing NCAA Tournament games at the Wells Fargo Center if the Wildcats advance to the Sweet 16. The Wells Fargo Center will host the East Regional Sweet 16 and Elite Eight games on March 25 and 27.
Villanova has to be a No. 3 or better to play games there.
But is THAT fair?
We’d argue that no, Villanova shouldn’t be there as a No. 3 or even a No. 2 seed. Villanova has played by the rules, playing only three regular-season games there, which cost the school a bit of money not playing more in the larger arena. The NCAA Tournament selection committee has signaled its willingness to put Villanova there as a No. 3 seed, doing exactly that in the first mock draft released by the committee.
To me, that’s crazy. Let’s say Villanova ends up as even a No. 2 seed. Let’s say that puts the Wildcats up against a No. 1 seed. Is it really fair that Villanova could, in effect, “host” an Elite Eight matchup? Nope, but those are the rules, and this time Villanova could really benefit from them. (This isn’t personal. I’d rather cover games 20 minutes from my home any time.)
Maybe a little payback for the Big East rules going the other way for the Wildcats?
“This year’s [selection committee] chair specifically said they would do what the bracketing rules allow, which is good news for Villanova,” Lunardi said. “Being a rules follower by nature, I have no problem with that.”
So, that’s it? Villanova would be in the East?
Nope, in 2016 Villanova basically faced this same scenario, and ended up as a No. 2 seed in the South, shipped out to play in the same region as overall top seed Kansas, while the Wells Fargo Center hosted East Regional games, with North Carolina coming out of this region.
Safe to say, Villanova fans would love to see it all play out the same way.
The real bottom line: While the selection committee is likely to send Villanova (and maybe Providence, too) to Buffalo for the first rounds, being in the East Regional is basically luck of the draw, which means Villanova has a one-in-four chance of that happening as a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed. If the Wildcats were a top seed, they’d definitely be at the Wells Fargo Center, but even running the table, the odds of that happening are slim to none.
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Another way it’s all good for Villanova?
Providence had never won a Big East regular-season title. It was great national publicity for the Big East, the great 2021-22 ride by the Friars culminating in that Saturday night party scene at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
If Villanova can sweep Providence and get a higher seed, then everyone gets something out of the deal, even if ‘Nova loses a banner. On the ladder of importance for the Wildcats, a regular-season title falls below the Big East Tournament title, and well below NCAA successes ... so the ultimate report card grades for Villanova are still to be determined.