by John Fanta

PROVIDENCE – It’s fitting to be filing this column from the birthplace of the Big East Conference. I’d imagine Dave Gavitt is smiling upstairs right about now, and not just because the Providence Friars won Wednesday night. With a trio of anticipated midweek matchups for various reasons, the conference delivered a taste of March in February. 


 A Top-20 showdown between Villanova and Butler looked like, early on, that it might be remembered as the Hinkle Fieldhouse “rain delay” game, after a leak in the roof caused a 13-minute stoppage in the 93-year-old facility. How would one not prioritize that rarity as the first thing they remember about that game? 


Kamar Baldwin, that’s how. The senior wrote the latest chapter of his legend. After Villanova rallied from 10 down with 5:45 on the clock to tie the game at 76 apiece on a Saddiq Bey triple with 30 seconds left, the ball was in the Butler senior’s hands. 


Villanova didn’t give him the lane, leaving Baldwin with a right wing look, fading away nonetheless. Didn’t matter. He drained it at the buzzer, producing the latest installment of Hinkle Magic.


For those that say college basketball doesn’t deliver until March, this game was the perfect rebuttal. Both the Dawgs and Wildcats will get strong seeding in the NCAA Tournament, and this put it on display. Where it does have statistical meaning is in the standings. 


The loss gave Villanova its third in Big East play, meaning Jay Wright’s team is now two games back of 9-1 Seton Hall with a mark of 7-3. That adds to the magnitude of Saturday’s Top-12 tilt in Philadelphia, because if The Hall wins, a three-game lead could be insurmountable. At the start of the week, it was thought of as a showdown for first place potentially. Now, if the Villanova wins, they will still be a game back of first. 


Speaking of the Pirates, they showed quite the response from the defeat to sizzling Xavier on Saturday. Kevin Willard’s group came out razor sharp, rolling out a 16-0 run on Georgetown and hanging on to complete the season sweep of the Hoyas, 78-71. 


The Hoyas defense was just what the doctor ordered for Myles Powell. The Seton Hall senior star followed just a nine-point outing against Xavier with a 34-point barrage in Our Nation’s Capital. Adding seven rebounds and three assists, it was the ‘get-right’ game for the All-American candidate. 


All eyes turn to Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Seton Hall has not won a road game at Villanova since 1994. Need some context? I wasn’t born until ‘95. Can the Pirates break the drought? If it’s going to happen, you’d think this would be the year, but the Wildcats are desperate for a win having fallen in back-to-back games. 2:30 ET. Philly. FOX. It’s going down. 


Meanwhile at The Dunk, Ed Cooley and the Providence Friars have life. Holding Creighton to just 20 second-half points in a 73-56 rout, PC notched a second straight Top-20 NET win. After taking down Butler at Hinkle this past Saturday, the Friars clicked on all cylinders in holding the Jays to their lowest scoring output in a Big East game since January of 2017 (71-51 at Georgetown, Jan. 25). 


AJ Reeves looked like the lead candidate for Big East Freshman of the Year that he was before a foot injury sidelined him last season. The sophomore put up a season-best 22 points, hitting six triples. 


“There’s no tomorrow. We have to play desperate,” said Cooley after the Friars improved to 6-4 in Big East play. “Every game is a championship game. That’s where we’re at.” 


With Providence owning a trio of quadrant three losses and a quad four defeat, the Friars are still in a deep hole in terms of NCAA Tournament consideration. That said, five of their final eight games are quad one opportunities. With a 4-6 record against the top quadrant, the Friars could negate those blemishes, but it’s still going to take a lot of work. Saturday presents another Q1 game at Xavier. The Musketeers are very much in the NCAA Tournament conversation with three Q1 victories and zero Q3 or Q4 losses. 


With Wednesday in the books, 34 days remain before the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden. The madness appears to already have begun. 


Updated Standings: 


Seton Hall – 9-1

Villanova – 7-3

Butler/Creighton/Marquette/Providence – 6-4

Xavier – 4-6 

Georgetown – 3-7 

St. John’s – 2-8

DePaul – 1-9 


Follow John Fanta on Twitter at @John_Fanta as well as @NCAAHoopsDigest for updates all season long. CHD will have on-site coverage of Saturday’s game between #10 Villanova and #12 Seton Hall. Tip at 2:30 ET at Wells Fargo Center.