The Huskies will host the first game of the series with the return game coming in 2018, though exact dates and venues have not yet been set.
Since the Big East split in recent years, the two teams have met once, in the 2014 NCAA tournament when the Huskies went on to win a national championship.
UConn played Syracuse earlier this year while the Orange also took on St. John’s and Georgetown in a rematch of former Big East rivals now spread across the realignment landscape.
While the new iteration of the Big East is as strong as its best since the basketball schools bolted – with the Wildcats the defending champions and Creighton and Xavier both having big years – it’s encouraging to see that the classic matchups of the old Big East aren’t being completely abandoned in this new era of hoops, not only for nostalgia purposes but because they remain some of the best brands and programs in the sport.
No. 18 Butler hands No. 1 Villanova their first loss of the season
Andrew Chrabacsz had 13 points and seven boards to lead No. 18 Butler and Kethan Savage added 13 huge points off the bench before fouling out as the Bulldogs upset No. 1 Villanova, 66-58, on Wednesday night.
The loss is Villanova’s first of the season. Jalen Brunson scored 23 points to lead the way for the Wildcats, but the NBC Sports midseason Player of the Year, Josh Hart, played an unusually poor game.
Here are four things to know after Butler’s win:
1. This was a huge win for Butler’s tournament profile: It shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that Butler was able to knock off Villanova in Hinkle Fieldhouse. And it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that Butler is a good basketball team. The Bulldogs are ranked in the top 20. They opened as 4.5 point favorites against the No. 1 and undefeated Wildcats. KenPom projected the final score to be 70-69. Playing in front of 9,100 riled up Bulldog fans in Hinkle, these two teams are, essentially, equals.
A loss wouldn’t have changed that, especially if it was a close loss.
A win really doesn’t, either. Villanova is still a national title contender. Butler is still a team that can win a game like this at home and lose to a team like St. John’s on the road. What this win does do, however, is gives the Wildcats something to hang their tournament résumé on, and I say that knowing just how impressive Butler’s profile already is. They won at Utah. They won a neutral court game against Arizona in Vegas, which means it wasn’t really all that neutral. They beat Indiana on a neutral. They beat Cincinnati. Their win over Northwestern keeps looking better and better.
And now they have a win over a team that will be, at worst, in the top ten of all metrics come Selection Sunday.
2. This is good news for everyone in the Big East: Because it means that the league title race isn’t quite over yet. There is only going to be one more game during Big East play where Villanova will enter as an underdog – at Xavier – and I’m not convinced they won’t be favored in that game by the time that lines close. Put another way, a win against Butler would mean that Villanova would be 3-0 in the league with victories in two of the three toughest games they are going to play.
Villanova is still the heavy favorite to win their fourth-straight regular season title. This is just their seventh conference loss since Josh Hart, a senior, enrolled in school. They hadn’t lost since March 12th, 2016, and hadn’t lost a regular season game since Feb. 24th. This win for Butler means that door is just a little bit more open for the Bulldogs, as well as Creighton and Xavier.
3. Kethan Savage made big plays down the stretch: Savage is a transfer from George Washington. A 6-foot-4, athletic combo-guard, Savage was a double-figure scorer for the Colonials, but he missed the first four games of the season and struggled to find his way into the rotation in non-conference play due to a mystery illness; could’ve been mold, could’ve been pneumonia, the doctors didn’t really seem to know.
But Savage is back now. He scored 10 points in each of the first two Big East games, and followed that up with 13 points in 21 minutes against Villanova. He scored three critical baskets late in the game, providing the spark that led to a game-changing, 11-2 run that put Butler up 58-52 with two minutes left. Butler doesn’t really have another guy like him – a big, athletic slasher that can create off the bounce – and his addition certainly changes their look for the better.
4. Does Villanova need a third option?: Jalen Brunson’s scoreline is going to look impressive – he finished with 23 points, but he didn’t play nearly as well as he did against Creighton. Josh Hart made a couple shots late, but he was, overall, not himself. He finished with 13 points, eight boards and three assists, but he was just 3-for-11 from the floor, battled foul trouble for most of the second half and committed an incredibly costly turnover in the final minute.
It seemed, at times, that Villanova’s offense would get bogged down. Much of that credit goes to Butler, who played well defensively, but it was a bit concerning that Villanova didn’t seem to have an answer down the stretch. Maybe I’m just making too much of this, and maybe it should be a good sign that Villanova could have those issues and still play a winnable game at Butler, but it’s something I’ll be monitoring moving forward.
College Basketball Talk Top 25: Villanova is the new No. 1
1. Villanova (14-0, Last Week: No. 2): It feels like what Villanova is doing this season is still flying under the radar despite the fact that they are undefeated and the No. 1 team in the country while staking claim as the reigning national champions.
2. UCLA (14-1, 3): UCLA lost on the road on a game-winner with 0.7 seconds left to a team that I now have in the top ten, a team that was in the preseason top five before we realized that Dillon Brooks, who is now healthy and mowing down opponents, wasn’t at 100 percent to start the year. I’m not concerned in the least.
3. Kansas (12-1, 4): The Jayhawks survived a scrappy TCU team in their Big 12 opener thanks to a punishing performance from center Landen Lucas. He has suddenly turned into the most important player on the Kansas team now that Udoka Azubuike is out for the year with a wrist injury.
4. Kentucky (11-2, 5): Kentucky put together their most complete performance on the season last week when they beat Ole Miss in Oxford. Isaiah Briscoe put up a triple-double, Bam Adebayo played his best game of the season and Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox did the things that Monk and Fox do.
5. Duke (12-2, 1): So what do we do with the Blue Devils? I’m still in the camp that says that Duke has the highest ceiling of any team in the country, and I also think we’ve underrated just how good Virginia Tech is this season; the Hokies would be undefeated right now if they hadn’t choked away a loss to Texas A&M in the Wooden Legacy semifinals. This isn’t like Duke going to Boston College and taking a beating.
But Duke still took a beating, and the biggest concern was that the Blue Devils seemed to lack the effort and the intensity to make the plays they needed to make defensively. They almost looked selfish offensively, as the lack of a point guard on that roster was glaring. They played without Grayson Allen, who was serving the first game of his suspension, but the issues Duke had on display were much bigger than Allen.
Put another way, Saturday made me think that Duke may not ever get to their ceiling. But hey, at least Harry Giles III finally scored a point.
6. Gonzaga (14-0, 8): The Bulldogs were pushed by both Pacific and Pepperdine this week, but came out unscathed with double-digit wins. There is a real chance that Gonzaga could head into Moraga on Feb. 11th as the lone undefeated team in college basketball.
7. Baylor (14-0, 9): The Bears keep rolling along. On Saturday, they opened up Big 12 play by mollywhopping Oklahoma in Norman. It is going to be fun when the Bears get together with Kansas this season, on Feb. 1st and Feb. 18th.
8. Wisconsin (12-2, 11): While Indiana lost twice last week and Purdue dropped a home game to Minnesota, the Badgers continue to roll along. Since Nigel Hayes made the change to being a point forward, the Badgers have looked like a totally different team.
9. Louisville (12-2, 7): Outside of Duke, Louisville is the hardest team in this poll to rank. They beat Kentucky, but they beat Kentucky by three in a game they were favored by two on their home floor, the same home floor where they were smacked around by Virginia just five days ago. But then the Cardinals turned around and gave Indiana a similar whooping in Indiana. Wherever you have them ranked, here’s what you need to admit: the Cards are, right now, as good as, if not better than any team in the ACC.
10. Oregon (13-2, 21): Oregon vaults up to No. 10 in our poll for one, simple reason: they’re back.
11. West Virginia (12-1, 12)
12. North Carolina (12-3, 6)
13. Creighton (13-1, 10)
14. Florida State (14-1, 25)
15. Virginia (11-2, 18)
16. Xavier (12-2, 16)
17. Saint Mary’s (12-1, 17)
18. Arizona (14-2, 22)
19. Cincinnati (13-2, 20)
20. Butler (12-2, 13)
21. Purdue (12-3, 14)
22. Virginia Tech (12-1, UR)
23. Notre Dame (12-2, 23)
24. USC (14-1, 19)
25. Indiana (10-4, 15)
DROPPED OUT: No. 24 Seton Hall NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Virginia Tech
Defending champ Villanova is undefeated, No. 1 and still flying under the radar
OMAHA, Neb. — It was almost camouflaged, but still visible. On the back of the reigning national champions’ warmups, in a darker shade of blue than the rest of the shirt, read “VILLANOVA.” You almost had to squint to see it, as if it was hiding in plain sight.
In a year where Grayson Allen’s antics, Kentucky’s freshmen and UCLA’s resurgence have gobbled up headlines, conversation and college basketball oxygen, right in front of everyone stands Jay Wright’s group, somewhat unnoticed, certainly underappreciated and, after beating 10th-ranked Creighton at CenturyLink Center on Saturday, still undefeated.
The Wildcats are the country’s top-ranked team, but they’ve never been the sport’s top storyline this season. They’re respected, but not revered.
In their 80-70 win over Creighton, they showed why history will be in their grasp this spring.
Facing down a 10-point deficit, a crowd of 18,831 and a Bluejays team that had previously vanquished all challengers behind one of the country’s best offenses spearheaded by one of its best backcourts, the No. 1 Wildcats simply prevailed to win their 20th-straight game and run their record this season to 14-0.
“There’s a lot of guys there that just won a national championship,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, “and they don’t get shook. They don’t get rattled.
“If you’re not going to get rattled the way that crowd was (with the early score at) 24-14, you’re not going to get rattled because they won’t play in a tougher environment all year.”
Beyond the record and the accolades accumulated by Villanova, it’s their demeanor that stands out. It’s an uncanny resolve in the face of adversity.
The Wildcats, after taking Creighton’s best in the first half and still taking a leading into the locker room, led for nearly all of the second half until Isaiah Zierden’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining tied the game and sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was exactly the moment when a road team against a top-10 opponent folds under the weight of momentum and pressure.
“We knew we had to stick with doing what we were doing,” senior Josh Hart said, “and that’s being solid, playing Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Against the best teams, it’s going to take 40 minutes. (Creighton) is a great team. One of the best teams in our league so we knew when that happened, come closer together and play Villanova basketball.
“Don’t try to go win it yourself. Don’t try to go outside of doing what we do. Stick with Villanova basketball, and we’re going to live and die with that.”
Live, Villanova did.
After Zierden’s 3, Villanova made 4 of 5 shots (rebounding and converting their one miss), made all six of their free throws and held Creighton to just one field goal.
It was a masterclass of poise and execution. When a big shot needed making, Villanova cashed in. When the defense needed a stop, the Wildcats buckled down. It wasn’t just the results, though, that were impressive. Villanova didn’t luck into made shots or Creighton turnovers. Almost every dribble, switch and rebound was executed with cool precision belying the circumstances.
Of course, for this group, a Saturday afternoon in Omaha isn’t as daunting when you’ve played on a Monday night in April.
“I think (the experience) is what it is,” coach Jay Wright said. “We have three seniors that are just amazing. Not just Xs and Os and making shots, but communicating and leading the team in tough times because they’ve been through it.”
Villanova’s foundation is its experience and its maturity, but what gives the Wildcats the best chance at a repeat national championship since Florida a decade ago is their multitude of weapons. Josh Hart is a national player of the year candidate. Kris Jenkins hit one of the biggest shots in the sport’s history and came into the afternoon averaging nearly 13 points per game. It was the third – and youngest – option that kept Villanova afloat amid the volleys Creighton fired their way in the first half. With Hart bottled up and Villanova floundering some, Jalen Brunson hit four consecutive shots, three of them from distance and scored 11-straight points for the Wildcats.
“You go through their run in the NCAA tournament,” McDermott said, “they’re so good at taking what the defense gives you. They’re so intelligent that way.”
It’s impossible to separate last year’s Villanova team for this season’s. Yes, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are gone, but that’s it. There’s also the matter of the fact they just keep winning. Six to end last season, 14 to start this one. Wright, however, won’t let this version of Villanova take credit for last year’s success, even if the public wants to draw a line from the team that showered under confetti in Houston last April to this undefeated start.
“It’s completely different,” he said. “It’s a different completely different crew. A completely different team. We’re playing differently.
“But they have to deal with everyone else’s impact from last season. They have to deal with everybody treating them like the No. 1 team, treating them like the former national champions. Still talking about last year. They all have to deal it. It’s part of the responsibility. It’s a good challenge to have, but it’s a totally different team this season.”
It’s not, of course, a totally different team. Not exactly the same, sure, but certainly not far removed. This is a team with national championship pedigree. It has one of the best players in the country, and a supporting cast that can star when called upon. Experience, talent and no apparent complacency make for a dangerous team.
Only two programs – Duke and Florida – have repeated as national champions since UCLA’s run in the 1960s and ‘70s. Villanova is equipped to potentially join that group. It’s the biggest story in the sport, and it’s happening in front of the entire country. You don’t even need to strain to see it, let alone appreciate it.
Four takeaways from No. 1 Villanova beating No. 10 Creighton
No. 1 Villanova continued its unbeaten season and stretched its win streak to 20 games as they outlasted N0. 10 Creighton for a 80-70 Big East road win.
Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ win on Saturday.
1. Nothing is going to fluster Villanova: Early in the game, the Wildcats found themselves down 19-9 and 24-14. Three-pointers weren’t falling and the underrated Creighton fanbase was loud and engaged. It didn’t bother Villanova one bit.
The Wildcats heated up from the perimeter and sophomore Jalen Brunson played one of the best games of his college career, going for a career-high 27 points and coming up with a big steal late in the game.
Villanova already has two closers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart can get shots late in games and get points when Villanova needs them while Jenkins is a great second option who isn’t afraid to take any shot. If you add in Brunson playing this well? You can see why Villanova is still unbeaten and sitting at No. 1 at this point in the season.
2. Villanova finishing the regular season unbeaten is picking up steam: Villanova might have just won the toughest possible test they’ll receive by winning at Creighton on Saturday.
Villanova will still get a solid test at Butler during their next game but the Bulldogs just lost to St. John’s on the road and had to deal with a scary flight situation on the way home. We don’t know if Butler is mentally prepared to hang with the defending national champions.
That means Villanova only has tough road games at Seton Hall and Xavier if they beat Butler next game and the schedule looks more-and-more favorable for them to finish unbeaten. Obviously, the Wildcats have to avoid slip-ups against lesser opponents and still beat the Big East’s beat teams at home. There’s an intriguing non-conference clash with Virginia that also looms for the Wildcats.
But we need to start looking at Villanova potentially going unbeaten as a serious threat since this team has some good road wins at Purdue and Creighton in which a lot of other teams would have folded.
3. Creighton remains a solid Big East threat: We shouldn’t forget about the Bluejays just because they lost this one at home. Creighton is still going to be a premier team in the Big East with a great chance at a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament as their potent offense puts them in any game.
The backcourt of Mo Watson Jr., Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas is a quality trio while center Justin Patton has improved so much over the course of the season. Senior forward Cole Huff remains an intriguing forward who can stretch the floor or go in the mid-post and score on turnaround jumpers.
Creighton still has to figure out how to get stops in close games like this one but they at least traded punches with the champion for 10 out of 12 rounds of a prize fight. They ultimately fell short in this one but Creighton hasn’t reached its ceiling yet — which is fun to think about.
4. Creighton goes as Mo Watson goes: One of the interesting things about Creighton’s loss to Villanova was seeing how this team looked with and without Mo Watson Jr.
Watson played most of the game but he did battle foul trouble in both halves before eventually fouling out during Creighton’s rally with a few minutes left. With Watson playing at his best, he’s one of the finest floor leaders in the country as he sets up others for shots while also handling pressure and limiting turnovers.
But you have to wonder if Watson is afraid to look for his shot sometimes. Against Villanova, Watson played his typical pass-first style but he passed up multiple open looks that he could have taken instead of making dangerous passes to guarded teammates.
Villanova is a different caliber of team defensively so Watson needs to look for his own offense more than usual when facing a team like them. But for the Bluejays to also be in this game despite an average game from Watson also shows how good they can be if he’s playing at his best.
Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins become first Big 5 players to go undefeated in career
But that wasn’t the most impressive part of the night.
The city of Philadelphia has one of the coolest series in all of college sports. The Big 5 – Villanova, Temple, La Salle, Penn and Saint Joseph’s – play a round robin every year. The series started way back in 1955 and has seen some of college basketball’s best players and best teams, but it wasn’t until Tuesday night that any play had finished his four-year college career undefeated in Big 5 games.
Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds went 16-0 in Big 5 games, which is as much a testament to their ability to win games as a four-peat atop the Big East would be.
“It’s an honor, definitely humbling,” Hart said. “It’s something 20, 30 maybe 40 years down the road we can look back and say that’s pretty cool.”
These things are cyclical. I get it. Temple, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle all play in “lesser” leagues. None of the three have managed anything close to the kind of sustained success that Villanova has had in recent seasons. Penn, for as much tradition and history as that program has, is an Ivy League program that bottomed out of late. Villanova, on the other hand, is in the midst of one of the most impressive four-year runs any program has had in recent memory.
But that shouldn’t dull what this senior class was able to accomplish in Big 5 play.
Because Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, two longtime NBA players that led St. Joe’s to one of the best seasons a Philly team has ever had in 2004, lost a Big 5 game. Because Lionel Simmons, who is third all-time in NCAA history in points scored, lost a Big 5 game with La Salle. There have been better players that have come through Philly programs.
I don’t know that there’s ever been a better team, but I do know that there’s never been a more successful one.