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NCAA Basketball: Providence at Xavier Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

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Standings Reset: The Race for the Regular Season Crown

Ed Cooley and the Friars remain in first place with the finish line in sight

In less than three weeks’ time, crowds will flock to Madison Square Garden to watch the Big East Tournament. With the regular season nearing an end, let’s take this time to see the candidates to finish at the top of the standings.

Due to cancellations, this year’s champion will likely be decided by winning percentage.

Right off the bat, over half of the Big East can be eliminated. The lowest winning percentage that could win the conference is 70 percent, and that would occur if Providence lost out and Villanova lost all of its remaining games except the one against the Friars. With this threshold, Georgetown, DePaul, Butler, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Xavier, and Marquette are all out of contention.

That leaves us with four teams. Let’s go through them one by one.

Creighton Bluejays

Record: 16-8, 8-5

Games Remaining: at DePaul, vs Marquette, at St. John’s, at Providence, vs UConn, vs Seton Hall

Creighton has six games remaining, including a matchup with DePaul tonight. They’ll finish with 19 of 20 possible games played, losing their home game against Providence due to a Covid outbreak within the Friars’ program. The path for Creighton is simple, but it isn’t easy. First, Greg McDermott needs to win all six remaining contests. KenPom gives the Bluejays a 0.6 percent chance at doing that. If they do that, they’ll need some help as well. Villanova would need to beat Providence but lose every other game. The Friars would need losses at Butler and to Xavier in addition to the losses at Villanova and vs Creighton. Is it possible? Yes. Will it happen? No.

Connecticut Huskies

Record: 18-7, 9-5

Games Remaining: vs Xavier, vs Villanova, at Georgetown, at Creighton, vs DePaul

Dan Hurley’s team is exactly where Creighton will be with a win at DePaul tonight. The Huskies need to win out, and KenPom gives them a 14.2 percent chance of doing so. If that happens, they need the same help that Creighton needs with Villanova and Providence losing out and Villanova beating Providence in their meeting. While this is a four-horse race on paper, it’s very nearly a two-horse race in reality.

Villanova Wildcats

Record: 20-6, 13-3

Games Remaining: vs Georgetown, at UConn, vs Providence, at Butler

Despite winning at Providence on Tuesday, Villanova remains in second place in the conference. However, they do control their destiny thanks to a second meeting with the Friars. This time, it’s at home. Win that game, and Villanova is in good shape to win the regular season title. Win all four games left, and the Wildcats will finish in first place. Providence and Villanova each have four games remaining, and the Wildcats will come away with the crown by finishing with a better record over that stretch. Should Jay Wright lose at Finneran Pavillion for the second time this season against the Friars, Villanova can still win the Big East if Providence stumbles twice.

Providence Friars

Record: 21-3, 11-2

Games Remaining: at Butler, vs Xavier, vs Creighton, at Villanova

Ed Cooley’s team remains at the top of the Big East standings, where they’ve been for most of conference play. Like Villanova, the Friars control their own destiny. Unlike Villanova, they have a little more room for error. Should Providence and Villanova each finish with the same record in their last four games, it will be the Friars holding the trophy for the first time in school history. That means that there’s a realistic path for them to win the conference even with a loss at Villanova on March 1. There’s even a path for the Friars to have wrapped things up before that game is played. According to KenPom, there’s a 58 percent chance Villanova loses one of their games to Georgetown, UConn, or Butler. If that loss comes in one of the first two games, Providence will be playing the clinch the title on senior night against Creighton should they beat Butler and Xavier first. Of course, the simplest route for Providence is to just win at Villanova. Do that, and a 2-1 record in the other three games makes them the first seed at Madison Square Garden on March 10th.

Essentially, this is a four-game season for Providence and Villanova. Whichever team wins more over that stretch will win the Big East. Should each team win the same numbers of games, the Friars will take it. Odds are, it will come down to the March 1 meeting between these two teams at Finneran Pavillion, but there’s a host of teams waiting to play spoiler. Should either drop a game unexpectedly, their remaining meeting could lose most or all of its meaning. For now, mark that as “Big East Game of the Year: Vol II” on your calendar. You’ll want to make sure you’re stocked up on popcorn in advance.

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