Villanova looks to defend it’s Big East title//

By John Fanta


Time flies when you’re having fun.

It sure did for the BIG EAST. The conference’s 10 teams combined for 100 non-conference wins and the best winning percentage (.813) since 1988-89.

Wednesday, the 18-game war of conference play tips off for six of the league’s 10 teams. Here’s what to watch for in each match-up.

Butler @ Georgetown – 6:30 PM ET, FS1

It’s only fitting that the BIG EAST’s two first-year coaches – Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing and Butler’s LaVall Jordan –  square off to tip off league play when the Bulldogs visit the Hoyas. The word to describe the match-up itself? I’ll use ‘curious.’ Both of these 10-win teams are still a mystery, but in different ways. The Hoyas had the worst non-conference schedule in college basketball, but showed in their lone test against Syracuse that they can cause problems with their size. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have a pair of kenpom Top 60 wins over Ohio State and Utah, but own double-digit defeats in their biggest tests against Maryland, Texas, and Purdue. The key to this one – Can the Hoyas find a way to hold their own in the backcourt? Because of Butler’s schedule, the Dawgs should not be fazed by seeing the likes of Jessie Govan and Marcus Derrickson. But with the Hoyas lacking point guard play, keeping sophomore Kamar Baldwin, impact transfer Paul Jorgensen, and freshman Aaron Thompson from finding a rhythm is a steep task.

#1 Villanova @ DePaul – 7:30 PM ET, CBS Sports Network

DePaul head coach Dave Leitao didn’t mince words when asked about facing the top team in the country in the BIG EAST opener. He started by saying it was like being a “sacrificial lamb.”

“Villanova’s the most efficient basketball team that I’ve seen in many, many years,” the Blue Demons’ skipper added. The 12-0 ‘Cats are in Chicago Wednesday night, and on the other side is a 7-5, but battle-tested DePaul team. While the Blue Demons’ record doesn’t show much progress, facing Michigan State and Notre Dame, among some Big Ten opponents, should have the Blue Demons ready for a stage like Wednesday night. The issue with facing this Villanova team? The Wildcats have an unpredictability factor because they can beat you in infinite ways. One night it could be Jalen Brunson. The next it could be Mikal Bridges. On another it could be freshman stud Omari Spellman, who Leitao said gives Nova a different dimension.

#6 Xavier @ Marquette – 8:30 PM ET, FS1 (GAME OF THE NIGHT)

Grab your popcorn and watch this one, folks. Xavier and Marquette are two of the top four offensive teams in the BIG EAST, averaging 86.9 and 83.0 points per game, respectively. Five of the conference’s top eight three-point shot-makers will also be featured in this showdown in Milwaukee – Marquette’s Markus Howard, Sam Hauser, and Andrew Rowsey and Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett and Kaiser Gates. Here’s the issue for the Golden Eagles. When Chris Mack’s team needs a stop, the Musketeers can hit a winning gear in their sleep. Marquette is still a work in progress on the defensive end, and head coach Steve Wojciechowski said Wednesday’s game will be a good gauge. He didn’t stop there when talking about facing 6th-ranked Xavier.

“Xavier’s the best team we will have played so far,” said the fourth-year Golden Eagles coach. “They’re a team that can win a national championship.”

Follow along throughout the BIG EAST Hoops season on Twitter at @John_Fanta and @NCAAHoopsDigest.