Re·spect /rəˈspekt/ (noun): a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements
For over 30 years, the BIG EAST Conference was one of the most well respected in the country. Giants like Georgetown, Syracuse, UConn and Louisville roamed the streets, laying waste to any team that dared to get in their way. In the years between the conference's foundation in 1979 and eventual dissolution in 2013, the BIG EAST boasted seven national champions, including four since the turn of the century.
And then it was gone.
When top-ranked Villanova heads into the Cintas Center in Cincinnati, Ohio on Wednesday night to take on fifth-ranked Xavier, they'll be looking to do more than just win the game. They'll be looking to send a message to the nation. They'll be looking to tell the world that the BIG EAST is back, and it's not going anywhere any time soon.
In 2013, when national powers Syracuse, Louisville, UConn and a plethora of others bolted from the Big East for the allure of big time college football revenue, the conference was crippled. Those three programs alone represent eight national championships. Many have since questioned the strength of the conference, and recent NCAA Tournament results have left them feeling validated. But as the saying goes, you can't keep a good conference down.
With the loss of many of the conference mainstays, came the addition of three teams that have helped return the conference to prominence: Xavier, Butler and Creighton. Led by three excellent head coaches in Chris Mack, Brad Stevens (now of Boston Celtics fame) and Greg McDermott, the three newcomers have helped to lead a conference resurgence. Since 2010, these former "mid-major" programs have produced five Sweet Sixteen appearances, two Elite Eight runs, and one Naismith Player of the year award.
All of this leads us to today's matchup, a battle of two heavyweights with the greatest of knockout power. The champions, Villanova, led by seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, heading into hostile territory to take on the ever-dangerous challengers, Xavier. Anchored by old-school, BIG EAST-tough point guard Edmond Sumner, the Musketeers are looking to land a right hook that would put them at the pinnacle of the NCAA basketball world as it stands. After being beaten down both figuratively and literally in their prior encounter this season, Chris Mack's ball club will undoubtedly be hungry for revenge.
So forget your Syracuse-Pittsburgh and your UConn-Louisville, because the BIG EAST is back in a big way, and they're looking for respect.
News & Notes
How to watch, listen, stream...
Game Time: 7 p.m. ET
Radio: WTEL 610 AM (Villanova), WLW 700 AM (Xavier)
Stream: FOX Sports Go (Where available)
Spread: Xavier +1
ML: Even (-110)
*All Odds via OddsShark
Three things to watch
1. Edmond Sumner revenge game?: As the kids would say, Edmond Sumner's game is Big East AF. After leaving the previous 'Nova game following a concussion, Sumner will be looking to do his best Inigo Montoya imitation in the return leg. The superb freshman point guard is an absolute warrior for Musketeers. His game reminds me a lot of former Villanova lead guard Maalk Wayns and neither guy is afraid to get in amongst the big and bang. Sumner may have the prettiest game you've ever seen, but after you spend a night on the floor with him you know you've been in a battle. If Chris Mack's main man can come up big on the big stage, the Musketeers will be a hell of a tough team to beat.
2. Hart Breaker?: For my money, Villanova's Josh Hart has been the best player in the conference this season. The jack of all trades guards is at the center of everything that Jay Wright's team does on both sides of the ball and the Wildcats usually go as Hart goes. Luckily for 'Nova, Hart has gone pretty damn well most of the season. The junior out of Maryland is one of the best rebounding guards in the country and can be an lock down defender when he's dialed in. A strong performance from Hart could mean a long night for fans of the Musketeers.
3. Coaching showdown: While it's certainly up for debate, a serious argument could be made for Chris Mack and Jay Wright being the top two of the top five coaches in the country. Wright has helped to revived what was a struggling program prior to his tenure and Mack has taken the foundation laid by former head coach Sean Miller and built what is now considered one of the best programs in the nation by many in the business. When watching this game, be sure to pay attention to use of substitutions, changes in defenses, and offensive game plan because these two are a couple of the brightest basketball minds in the country.