Are the Villanova Wildcats the team of the Big East?
Since the reformatting of the Big East Conference in 2013, the Wildcats have been dominant in a time when the conference needed them the most. A 2014 ESPN documentary titled ‘Requiem For The Big East’ detailed the meteoric ascension and subsequent downfall of a conference that was once the most successful college sports league in America.
Despite being left for dead, the Big East Conference prevailed and is once again on the rise to becoming the premier conference in all of college basketball.
In 1979, Providence College head coach Dave Gavitt formed the Big East Conference. Gavitt did so with ambitions of assembling a northeastern basketball-centric athletic conference. Before long, the conference would crown its first national champion in Georgetown, who did so by defeating Houston in the 1984 National Championship. Since then, the Big East trails only the Atlantic Coast Conference in titles, but the two conference’s paths to success could not be further apart.
On September 18th, 2011, the ACC would make an announcement that would completely alter the landscape of college basketball.
Longtime Big East members Pittsburgh and Syracuse would decide to abandon their conference for the ACC. This created a domino effect that left the Big East in peril. After Pittsburgh and Syracuse left, West Virginia followed suit by joining the Big 12. Once the major chips had fallen there was no stopping the other top conference teams from jumping ship themselves. Notre Dame fled to the ACC, while Louisville and Rutgers landed in the American before spinning off to the ACC and Big Ten.
The Big East was left for dead.
With teams like Pittsburgh and West Virginia losing their ‘Backyard Brawl’ game and the long, storied rivalry of Syracuse and Georgetown essentially evaporating, teams would no longer have a major game to look forward to. That's where Villanova comes in.
Villanova head coach Jay Wright has been at the helm of the program since 2001 and it did not take him long to establish a competitive and successful program. In just his fourth year with the team, Wright led the Wildcats to an unlikely Sweet 16 berth duel to the emergence of guards Randy Foye and Allan Ray. The following year, the Wildcats would finish the season with a record of 25-4 including a 14-2 record in the Big East regular season. That was good enough for the program's first No. 1 seed in school history. A star was born on the main line.
Wright would continue his successful start as a head coach all the way up until the aforementioned realignment. But nobody could have predicted what would happen in the following years. Despite a couple of turbulent years prior to the realignment, Wright had his program consistently in contention not only on a local scale but on a national level now. A conference that was begging for a powerhouse was watching one bloom right before their eyes. The culmination of all of the hard work Wright and countless others put into this program came in 2016, hand-delivered off the fingertips of Kris Jenkins.
From there it couldn’t get any better for Villanova, right? Well, I think you know how this one ends. In 2018, Villanova fielded quite possibly the best college basketball team of all time (that is a story for another article), and defeated every team they faced in the tournament by double digits. They were the only team to ever do so. Any claims of the 2016 championship being labeled as a fluke were now inconsequential. The Big East has a bonafide blue blood in the Villanova Wildcats.
That brings us back to our original thesis: Are the Villanova Wildcats the team in the Big East?
Personally, as an admittedly biased reporter, I say yes. However, history may have another answer. Villanova has five Big East championships, tied with Syracuse and trailing only Connecticut (7) and Georgetown (8). They have a chance to move into a solo third-place position on Saturday night with a win over the Creighton Bluejays.
Let's start with Connecticut. UConn has seven conference titles and most recently won in 2011. Before that, 2004 was their last conference championship appearance, a year when some of their current high school recruits were born. Feel old yet? When UConn fled to the American Athletic Conference they frankly did not find much success.
Now credit where credit is due, they did win the National Championship in 2014, slaying Villanova in the process. Other than that they only found themselves winning one conference title the entire duration of their time in the AAC. UConn needs the Big East just as much if not more than the Big East needs UConn. The Huskies are on their way to their first twenty-win season since 2015 (the year I graduated high school, for reference), and a large part of it is due to the conference reunion.
UConn has some of the best fans in the country, and you could physically feel their presence at this year's Big East Tournament. Specifically the game they played against Villanova. Having them back in the conference is a win-win for all teams involved but their elongated absence from home is why they have fallen out of top-dog status, for me at least.
If you felt old reading that section on Connecticut, you are going to want to skip reading this section on Georgetown. Now I will give credit to Patrick Ewing and the reigning Big East Tournament champions. Was it a fluke? Maybe. Not winning a single game in the conference this year does not help their case. But with that being said, there is no doubt Georgetown was dominant in their golden era.
The Hoyas won six tournament championships in the 1980s behind legendary, Hall of Fame head coach John Thompson. Since then, unfortunately, the Hoyas were only able to come up with two conference tournament championships (2007, 2021). Regardless of fluke years or any other variables, Georgetown leads the Big East in conference tournament titles and no one can take that away from them, at least this year. While they were the most dominant team the Big East has ever seen for about a decade, their recent success, or lack thereof, is why I can not give Georgetown top-dog status either.
That brings us right back to where we started with the Villanova Wildcats. This conference was in absolute peril when it realigned and now they are the premier college basketball tournament in the country. I mean, just look at the ACC Tournament going on down the street at the Barclays Center.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN SECTION pic.twitter.com/uOK5XfbulJ— Mister Hot Balls ☄️☄️ (@MisterHotBalls) March 9, 2022
The ‘get-in-the-door’ price for the Big East tournament? A stiff $220 as opposed to a cool $45 bucks at the tournament down the street. Shout out to my good friends at The Full 40 podcast for finding that information, you can find their podcast linked here.
Anyways, back to the Wildcats. I am not completely crediting them with ‘saving’ the Big East. However, I will say that they are a huge part of the revival. In an ever-changing landscape that is college basketball Villanova has stayed consistently good and is a model of what a powerhouse team in a conference should be. For those reasons and the ones we discussed previously I am crowning my top-dog in the conference to the Villanova Wildcats.
Who do you think is the top dog of the Big East? Let us know on Twitter!