After losses by Kansas and North Carolina, Villanova was already in the driver's seat entering Saturday, but the Wildcats emphatically stated their case anyway: They're the best bet to be the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The defending national champions were the No. 1 overall team in the selection committee's bracket sneak peak on Feb. 11, and while Kansas seemingly overtook the Wildcats own the stretch, the Jayhawks were sent home from the Big 12 tournament in the quarterfinals by TCU. When UNC lost to Duke on Friday, the door was wide open for Villanova to sit atop the field of 68 when it's revealed on Sunday night.
The Wildcats made sure to close their case with a flourish in the Big East tournament championship game.
On Saturday night, the Wildcats cruised to a 74-60 win over Creighton for the Big East title. Villanova had won three straight regular-season conference titles but only one tournament title since the Big East realigned in 2013-14. After losing in the final last year to Seton Hall, this time the Wildcats had little difficulty.
In fact, most of their difficulty came against Seton Hall, again, as the Wildcats needed a late Josh Hart putback to beat the Pirates 55-53 in Friday's semifinals at Madison Square Garden. Against the Bluejays, they stepped on the gas late in the first half to take a 14-point lead going into the locker room and never looked back. Creighton never got within single digits in the entire second half, it's one minor run immediately stopped by a Jalen Brunson 3-pointer.
While Villanova didn't exactly catch fire from 3-point range (it finished 9-for-26 after making seven early), it dismantled Creighton through the combination of the All-America Hart, Brunson and Kris Jenkins. Hart hit four threes and had 29 points and six rebounds. Brunson, who has taken an impressive step forward as a sophomore, had 17 points and five assists. And Jenkins scored 14. The Wildcats committed only 12 fouls all game and had eight steals, and Creighton made just 6 of 24 3-point attempts.
Creighton is solidly in the NCAA Tournament, but it's the third time this season that Villanova beat the Bluejays by at least 10 points. The Wildcats will try to become the first team to successfully defend its national title since Florida in 2007, and, in fact, it will try to be the first defending national champion to even make it past the Sweet 16 since then. They have 12 RPI top-50 wins, including nonconference victories over Purdue, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Virginia, giving them the best resume in college basketball.
Villanova has the fewest losses by a reigning national champion entering the NCAA Tournament since 2001-02 Duke (3).- ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 12, 2017
Depth is still a possible problem for Villanova -- it generally plays only seven in the rotation -- with Phil Booth injured, but it hasn't actually caught up with the Wildcats yet. After all, they're 31-3 overall with one of the nation's best offenses, excellent defense and a versatile lineup that includes the do-it-all Hart, the range of Jenkins, the long and athletic Mikal Bridges and the somewhat underappreciated play of Brunson, who has developed into a star with Ryan Arcidiacono gone.
Hart, of course, is still the biggest star, the player most responsible for Villanova's legitimate chance to go back-to-back. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Hart joined Peyton Siva and Patrick Ewing as the third player to win two Big East tournament MVP awards, and deservedly so.
With the win, Villanova has still lost just three times since falling in the Big East championship one year ago. It has won a national title, and it has added to its trophy case with Big East regular-season and tournament titles. History may say the odds are stacked against an NCAA repeat, but as the best bet for the No. 1 overall seed, Villanova will be in as good of position as anybody to win yet another trophy in April.