Jay Wright

Villanova the favorite to win the Big East tournament again

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Villanova the favorite to win the Big East tournament again

The Villanova men’s basketball team has won the Big East conference tournament for the past three years. And according to oddsmakers, they will likely make it a four-peat.

BetRivers.com lists Jay Wright’s squad as +300 (a $100 bet will win you $300) to win the tournament, shorter odds than the two other teams with which they shared the regular season conference title, Seton Hall (+320) and Creighton (+350). If you’re interested in making a wager, be sure to shop around. For example, BetRivers.com offers a better payout on Villanova than, say, FanDuel (+280).

For those of you looking for value, Providence could be a sneaky-good play. The 4-seed in the tournament is listed at +600 by BetRivers.com to take home the hardware. They have beaten each of the top three seeds in the tournament in the regular season, and come in riding a six-game winning streak.

Full odds to win the 2020 Big East Tournament (BetRivers.com):

Villanova: +300
Seton Hall: +320
Creighton: +350
Butler: +500
Providence: +600
Marquette: +700
Xavier: +1800
Georgetown: +2500
St. John’s: +4000
DePaul: +6000

Can Villanova get back to the Final Four earlier than expected?

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Can Villanova get back to the Final Four earlier than expected?

Is Villanova ahead of schedule?

It's a question worth considering as this college basketball season careens towards what figures to be an especially wild and unpredictable month of March. 

With no scholarship seniors on the roster, a lot of people - myself included - figured the Wildcats were a year away from seriously contending for another national championship. I expected this year's group to improve as the season progressed, compete for a Big East championship and maybe win a couple NCAA Tournament games. Then, with everyone returning for the 2020-2021 season, they'd be a Top 5 team with a legit shot of winning the program's fourth national title and third since 2016.  

But several factors have me thinking these Wildcats could arrive at the Final Four a year early.

Villanova won its 20th game of the season Wednesday night at DePaul, a convincing 91-71 victory in which the Wildcats made 18 of their 26 three-point attempts. They are ranked 12th in the country, with an opportunity to climb higher with a win Saturday at Xavier. They are 20-6 overall and 9-4 in the Big East, and a three-game losing streak a few weeks ago is starting to feel like a distant memory.  

As is often the case with Jay Wright's teams, this group is picking up steam as February comes to a close. They are playing that familiar selfless brand of 'Villanova basketball' that has served Wright's previous teams so well in postseason play. 

And, maybe most importantly, there aren't any dominant teams in college basketball this season. No teams that would be an insurmountable obstacle to Villanova in the NCAA Tournament.

So does Villanova have a shot to win it all this year? Here are three reasons why it could happen, and three reasons why they could fall short.

3 reasons Villanova can win a National Championship

1. The Gillespie-Bey 1-2 Punch

Junior Collin Gillespie and sophomore Saddiq Bey are as good a duo as any in the country. Both guys are capable of carrying Villanova in March. Gillespie leads Villanova in scoring, assists and steals. He scored a season-high 29 points last Sunday at Temple and is averaging more than 18 points in his last 13 games. He's shooting 43 percent from three-point range over that span and is a strong candidate for First Team All-Big East honors.

Bey is in the midst of a breakout season that has put him squarely on the radar of NBA talent evaluators. He's averaging 15.6 points and 5.0 rebounds and leads Villanova with a 46 percent three-point accuracy. Like Gillespie, Bey has stepped up his production in recent weeks. He's averaging more than 17 points and is shooting 52 percent from three point range in his last 12 games. Of course, Bey is playing himself into becoming a potential first round draft pick, which would throw a wrench into the notion that everyone will be back for Villanova next season.

2. Three-Point Barrage

Villanova shoots a ton of three-point shots. It can be ugly when those shots aren't falling (more on that later). But when the shots are going down, they can beat anyone in the country, and we've seen the Wildcats at their best recently. Dating back to halftime of Sunday’s win at Temple and extending through Wednesday's win at DePaul, Villanova has made 31 of its last 46 three-point attempts, a staggering 67 percent.

It would be silly to expect that type of shooting to continue. But even if they can make close to 40 percent of their long range shots, they'll be a very tough out in March.

3. Freshmen Maturing

Villanova's two freshman starters are X-factors: the Wildcats are very difficult to deal with when Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore are playing well. Robinson-Earl was just named the Big East Freshman of the Week for the sixth time this season. He's averaging 10.9 points and 9.3 rebounds and has established himself as an elite rebounder on the collegiate level. He's also playing with more confidence on the offensive end, trusting his ability to knock down the perimeter jumper.

Moore was terrific against DePaul, scoring 17 points and making 4 of 5 three-point attempts. He's proven to be a very skilled guard capable of getting to the basket as well as scoring from the outside, and he plays a valuable role as a complementary scorer to Gillespie and Bey.

3 reasons Villanova could fall short

1. Trouble on the Boards

The Wildcats have been significantly out-rebounded on several occasions and are particularly vulnerable on the offensive glass. This problem is exacerbated when Robinson-Earl gets in foul trouble. They were out-rebounded by an average of nearly seven rebounds per game during a three-game losing streak in early February. Villanova currently ranks 129th in the country in rebounding margin, pretty average among 350 Division 1 schools. This is definitely something worth monitoring in March when each possession becomes more valuable.

2. Sleeping in the Streets

One of Wright's favorite mottos is 'Shoot 'em up and sleep in the streets'. It means, for better or for worse, Villanova is going to keep shooting. Wright doesn't want his players to hesitate when they have an open look. Shoot first and ask questions later. As mentioned earlier, when the Wildcats are making shots it's a thing of beauty. But when they're not, it can make for some agonizing offensive performances.

Villanova has its share of good shooters, but they also have several inconsistent shooters. In the one-and-done format of the NCAA Tournament, they're one cold-shooting night away from elimination.

3. Slow Starts

Villanova has struggled at the beginning of games quite a bit this season. It's not uncommon to look up at the scoreboard 10 minutes into the game and see them with 10 or 12 points. Sometimes they're able to overcome these sluggish starts, sometimes they're not. As the level of competition picks up in March, it becomes more difficult to climb out of a double-digit hole in the first half. Starting games with more energy will be a point of emphasis with postseason basketball right around the corner.

Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly linked to New York Knicks head coaching job

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Villanova's Jay Wright reportedly linked to New York Knicks head coaching job

In the midst of another successful season at Villanova, Jay Wright’s name is yet again surfacing in connection with NBA jobs, but this rumor seems to be particularly short-lived.

Wright has been linked — again — to the vacant New York Knicks job, per Adam Zagoria for Forbes.com.

But just hours later, ESPN's Dana O'Neil — who has a number of Philly ties — reported that Wright isn't going anywhere, even going so far as to rule out the Sixers should their head coaching job open up this summer.

The idea of Wright to the Knicks is not new. After New York fired former Sixer Jeff Hornacek in 2018, the Knicks were interested in interviewing Wright, but the Wildcats head coach turned them down. He was also reportedly on the Phoenix Suns’ radar four years ago. Way back in 2009, he spoke with the Sixers about the job that eventually went to Doug Collins.

The interest from NBA teams likely won’t go away any time soon for Wright. He’s won two national championships and his current team is ranked No. 15 in the country. He’s likely destined for the Basketball Hall of Fame and seems to have the personality and demeanor to coach at the next level.

Up until now though, Wright has been inclined to stay at Villanova.

“I’m staying. I love it here,” Jay Wright said to The Athletic in 2018. “I love what we’re doing. I’m just really happy. I said when I was at Hofstra and I didn’t take other jobs, I used that old Jim Valvano line, ‘Don’t mess with happy.’ That seemed appropriate at Hofstra until this job opened. It’s still really appropriate. I’m very happy here. I don’t need another challenge. I like happy better than a new challenge.

“The NBA does intrigue me. That challenge is appealing, but it’s not worth giving up working with these guys.”

Wright recently put his home in Berwyn up for sale, but his broker said that Wright and his wife Patricia are looking to downsize with their kids getting older. It could just be a coincidence, but the timing is a little peculiar.

It does seem like Wright is, theoretically, open to the possibility of coaching in the NBA if the ideal opportunity presented itself.

The Knicks have cleaned house, firing head coach David Fizdale and team president Steve Mills. They’re still owned by the mercurial James Dolan and have an oddly constructed roster. 

Is that the type of job Wright would give up his comfortable position at Villanova for? Does what John Beilein is encountering in Cleveland give him pause? Could the Bucks County native hold out to see if the Sixers’ job becomes available if Brett Brown fails to get the team past the second round again?

There will be NBA jobs out there — if Wright ever wants one.

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