[caption id="attachment_13890" align="alignnone" width="600"] Villanova Athletics[/caption] It has been five years since a team currently in the Big East made it to the Final Four. In 2010 and 2011, Butler made back-to-back runs to the National Championship and lost to Duke and Connecticut, respectively, as a member of the Horizon League. Villanova was in the Final Four previous to that in 2009, and after seven years the Wildcats finally made it back. Villanova returning to the Final Four means more to the new Big East than many might think. Under the new 10-team format, many have said that the conference is “dead,” or will never reach the heights that it did prior to big schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Connecticut leaving. For the second straight year, the conference sent at least half its teams to the NCAA Tournament, and to have one get to Houston shows that the conference is still relevant.
After Nova defeated Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on March 10, Wildcats head coach Jay Wright said he wanted this to happen for the conference. “I really would like us to get to a Final Four for the Big East as much as for these guys. I really would. Because we love this league. And we want this league to get respect. But if we don’t do it, I would love Xavier or Providence or Seton Hall...I would love them to do it. I really would. For the league I would love to see that happen. I know they are good enough to do it.” The Musketeers, Friars and Pirates were not able to accomplish it, but Villanova pulled through after playing extremely well against some of the nation’s best teams. Nova defeated UNC Ashville, Iowa, Miami (Fla.) and then No. 1 overall-seeded Kansas to reach Houston. The Wildcats defense allowed an average of 63 points during that stretch and held star players like Miami point guard Angel Rodriguez and Kansas forward Perry Ellis to a combined 17 points in those two respective matchups.
Rodriguez was coming off a career-high 28 points against Wichita State before being held to 13 against Nova. Meanwhile, Ellis was held to four points after being one of the most consistent offensive stars in the Big 12 once again this season. Villanova is doing it with defense, just like Dave Gavitt—the Big East’s first ever commissioner—would have wanted. Now, the team has a chance to win a National Championship for the first time since 1985, when Rollie Massimino was at the helm. Standing in Nova’s way is arguably the nation’s best player, Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, who is averaging 29.3 points per game in the tournament.
With the way Villanova is playing, though, do not be surprised if the team is able to shut down “Buddy Buckets” in Houston. At the height of the old conference, Big East teams made the Final Four quite frequently, so to have the new conference in its third year send a team there means that it is here to stay.
Villanova making the Final Four shows other conferences, players, coaches and fans that these 10 teams are a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Sean St. Jacques can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @SSaintj7