Villanova routed Butler in the Big East Conference Semifinals on Friday night before Providence crashed the party with an upset earlier in the evening against the regular season champion, Xavier. So instead of a third matchup between the two teams projected to be #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament (at least Xavier was going into yesterday), we’ll get a championship game that will serve as a rubber match between two teams that split their regular season series.
Championship Week features back-to-backs, back-to-back-to-backs, and sometimes even back-to-back-to-back-to-backs. Such instances don’t occur in the regular season, the NCAA Tournament, nor the NIT.
Villanova got Butler on just the simple back-to-back on Friday night but it was after Butler overcame a double-digit deficit and went to overtime to beat Seton Hall. The Bulldogs had to be flimsy in the lower body on Friday but you can’t overlook how good ‘Nova looked in getting out to a 19–0 lead and then coasting against a team that has played it better than any other team in the Big East over the last couple seasons.
Phil Booth returned to the starting lineup for the first time since he broke his foot and scored 14 in 29 minutes. In fact, all five Villanova starters scored between 12 and 18 points in between 24 and 28 minutes. Donte DiVincenzo scored 5, got 6 rebounds and 6 six assists in 28 minutes off the bench.
The guards have been terrific all season and now that they’re all healthy, Villanova is humming. The Wildcats were a preseason favorite because of that core of perimeter players but Omari Spellman exceeding all expectations is the difference between Villanova being a serious contender and it being the single favorite.
The Big East Freshman of the Year had 12 and 12 against Butler in the semis as he continues to churn out double-doubles. Jay Wright’s system only uses one big inside and because of that, the guards have to be strong rebounders. Combine them will Spellman’s presence inside and you have a team that can play with the more traditional teams that still pound the paint without having to play the same way.
And now the ‘Cats have one more game to finish of the Big East Championship against an opponent that may be even flimsier than Butler was last night. Providence went to OT to beat Creighton in the quarterfinals before doing the same against Xavier last night.
The Friars did beat Villanova at home in the regular year but it was when Booth was out and the Wildcats shot just 15 percent from three (3-for-20) and turned it over 19 times. Even so, Providence only won by five.
This game is at a neutral site, but one that Villanova fans have shown up at in droves; Booth is back; and Villanova looks like the cold-blooded killer that makes it the decided favorite to win it all in less than a month from now.
Free Pick: Villanova -8