Blog Entry

Villanova only team that can challenge Pittsburgh

Posted on: February 2, 2011 10:17 pm
Posted by MATT JONES

With half of its season now completed, the Big East conference race is a muddled mess. Pittsburgh stands alone at the top, with an 8-1 conference record and a commanding two-game lead over its nearest competitors. But after that, the conference looks like a wide-open free for all, with nine teams bunched behind with either three or four losses.  Thus it could be seen as an unpredictable race, with 8-10 potential winners. But upon closer inspection there is only one likely contender that can stop a Pittsburgh Big East coronation.

Not only does Pittsburgh have a two-game cushion, it is also the beneficiary of what could be classified as an easy (at least by Big East standards) second half of the schedule. The Panthers only play three games against ranked opponents, instead facing South Florida and West Virginia twice, and Cincinnati and St. John's one time a piece. Whereas UCONN, Syracuse, Georgetown and Villanova have all gone through mini-losing streaks due to rough patches with multiple consecutive games against Top 20 teams on their schedules, Pittsburgh will avoid most of the toughest opponents down the stretch, making it difficult to forsee them giving many games back to the pack.

But the one team that Pittsburgh does have to deal with twice is Villanova, which got back on track Wednesday night with a 75-70 home victory over Marquette. The Wildcats found strong play once again from their big man tandem, Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena, who combined for 32 points and 17 rebounds to help spark an end to the team's recent four game malaise. Corey Fisher added 17 in the victory as Villanova built up a 14 point second half lead and withheld a late Marquette run for the victory.

The win ends the most difficult stretch of the Villanova schedule with a 2-3 record, as Jay Wright's club paired wins over Syracuse and the Golden Eagles with losses to UCONN and Georgetown and an embarrassing 15 point defeat at Providence. However even with those bumps in the road, Villanova finds itself as the only real team with a shot to knock off Pittsburgh for the conference title. The Wildcats have upcoming games against conference doormats Rutgers, Seton Hall and Depaul over the next three weeks, while also hosting winnable games against West Virginia, St. John's and Syracuse at home.

Most importantly however, Villanova still has a crucial home and home series with Pittsburgh yet to come.  Amongst the top contenders in the Big East, that gives the Wildcats a chance to add two losses to Pittsburgh's total, something the other contenders without Pittsburgh on their schedule cannot accomplish. Winning the Big East will likely take a sweep of the two-game series by Villanova, but unlike with the rest of the teams in conference, at least Villanova's best punch at the conference leader is ahead, rather than already passed by.

Jay Wright expressed disappointment in the play of his team last week and he surely can't be pleased with the slow finish against Marquette that allowed the Golden Eagles to make the game competitive late. But in a tightly-packed Big East, where the margin of error between second and tenth place in the conference is woefully small, Villanova is the only team with a schedule suited to presenting Jamie Dixon's team a challenge. Pittsburgh's current two-game lead is significant and its only real hurdle to the title is the two-game Villanova swing. The Big East Championship likely will hang in the balance.
Category: NCAAB

Since: Jan 18, 2007
Posted on: February 3, 2011 10:30 am

Villanova only team that can challenge Pittsburgh

MSG is going to rock in March!

Since: Apr 28, 2009
Posted on: February 3, 2011 9:34 am

Villanova only team that can challenge Pittsburgh

It is a shame Notre Dame doesn't play Pitt twice this season…we own the Panthers. Surprised

Since: Dec 11, 2008
Posted on: February 3, 2011 7:54 am

Villanova only team that can challenge Pittsburgh

My Prediction:
They drop one to Nova, one to WVU and at L'ville.  That would give three teams the chance of winning the BEAST, as a fan of one of the three teams tied for second, I don't think any of them will finish 8-1 in conference.  Pitt still wins.

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