Villanova enters the 2021 Big East Tournament with injuries lurking beneath its #1 seed title. With Collin Gillespie out for this year’s installment and Justin Moore doubtful, a fourth straight Big East Championship is anything but a certainty. By topping the regular-season Big East rankings, the Wildcats secured a first-round bye in the tournament and will play their first game in the quarterfinals against Georgetown or Marquette. Villanova went 4-0 combined against these teams during conference play, although the Hoyas gave the Wildcats a scare during the first half of their game in December.
For Marquette, it is freshman forward Dawson Garcia complementing Ohio State transfer D.J. Carton as leaders of the team. Although the Golden Eagles boast a win over a then top-four ranked Wisconsin team, coach Steve Wojciechowski and his squad mustered only seven wins in Big East play.
Jahvon Blair and Jamorko Pickett averaged 15.6 and 12.9 points respectively for Georgetown in a season more chaotic than most. The Hoyas saw four players from the previous season transfer, a challenge that paralleled pandemic-induced complications.
Were Villanova to win its first game, it would face the winner of fourth-seeded St. John’s against fifth-seeded Seton Hall.
The Wildcats are all too familiar with the Red Storm guard pairing of Posh Alexander and Julian Champagnie. The two combined for 30 points in the win over Villanova, giving the Wildcats trouble on the defensive side as well. St. John’s aggressive pressing defense could prove problematic should Villanova meet them in the semifinals.
Sandro Mamukelashvili headlines a Seton Hall team rebounding from the departure of Big East Player of the Year Myles Powell. The do-it-all forward works well with an experienced roster, however, the team enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.
On the other side of the bracket, Villanova faces tough competition from second-seeded Creighton and third-seeded UConn.
Creighton brings an arsenal of three-point shooters who can catch fire at any moment. During their first game with Villanova, guards Marcus Zegarowski and Mitchell Ballock knocked down a combined 13 shots from beyond the arc to hand the Wildcats their fourth loss of the season. In the second matchup between the two, the Bluejays went cold from the three point line and lost by 12. Although they can be a team that lives and dies by their shooters, the threat of ignition should scare any team they face in the Big East Tournament.
Unlike all teams mentioned prior, UConn faced Villanova only once this season, a 68-60 score in favor of the ‘Cats. Despite the team’s third-best conference record, many have tagged the Huskies as the most dangerous team in the field thanks to sophomore guard James Bouknight. This team and Bouknight harken back to previous UConn teams led by Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier. Bouknight’s pull-up ability and scoring acumen puts opponent coaches on edge whenever he receives the ball. Although the team lacks many solid wins over top opponents, the Huskies have the talent to hang with any opponent.
Villanova’s postseason prospects look much different than they did at the end of February. With Gillespie out and Moore doubtful, Jay Wright’s rotations will need to adjust quickly. The Providence game provided evidence for the Wildcat coaching staff to learn which lineups may outperform others, but time is of the essence, and one slip up in the postseason is all it takes.
What it comes down to for Villanova is scoring. Gillespie and Moore were two of the most creative players on the team, not just scoring but also in creating scoring opportunities for teammates. Senior Jermaine Samuels and sophomore Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will need to fill higher usage roles as Wright relies more heavily on bench players with less on-court experience. If the team can rally around its fallen leader and find a way to consistently put up points, the Wildcats can justify their spot at the top of the Big East.