Four days ago, with the entire league 0-0, Bart Torvik crunched the numbers on who might win the Big East. Villanova, as one would expect, sat atop the pile with a 54% chance of claiming a share of the title and nearly a 40% chance of winning the league outright. Xavier was second at 38%/24%, and UConn and Seton Hall sat just behind, poised to join a four-horse race for the top spot.
One game into league play, it has all been throw into chaos.
Creighton and Providence moved to 1-0 at the somewhat shocking expense of Villanova and UConn, respectively. Ed Cooley’s lads went to the Hartford Center and turned the game into a little bit of a rock fight. Dan Hurley won’t be pleased to have a game of toughness end with his team second best, but not even a furious comeback could get UConn back on top. Creighton was up 12 on Nova just after halftime, but the Wildcats cut it to a single bucket with just under 9 minutes left. Creighton immediately took momentum back and closed the game on a 23-5 run as Nova wilted from the moment.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall had positive tests within the program. In accordance with Big East protocols, they’ll move to 0-1 in the league with St. John’s going to 1-0.
As all of this brewed, Xavier took care of business against Marquette at home. One game in, Xavier now holds - again per Bart Torvik - a 47% chance at a share of the league and a 35% shot at an outright title.
As you may be aware, though, the games are played out on the courts, not simulated via algorithm. In just 35 hours, Xavier will be headed to Villanova with a chance to send the defending league champs to 0-2 and send X to 2-0.
If there’s ever a game in which the difference between simulation and reality comes to the fore, it’s this one. Back when he was Xavier coach instead of leading the kind of powerhouse program that can keep Western Kentucky within 10 points, Chris Mack referred to this game as “the annual Philadelphia ass kicking.” Mack took Xavier to Villanova 5 times and lost by an average of 23 points. It was a game that felt conceded before it even tipped off.
Travis Steele has done the opposite. He lost his first trip to Nova by 10 and was within Brian O’Connell knowing the rules of knocking them off in the Big East tournament that year. The next year, Steele suffered a six-point loss as a comeback from down 13 came up just short. Then covid robbed Xavier a chance to take on Nova on their own floor last year. On the whole, Steele has played Nova five times; at the end of regulation in those games, he has been outscored by a total of 14 points.
Xavier is just 1-4 against Nova in the Steele era, but they’ve never lain down to the Wildcats the way X did under Chris Mack. Now the reigning champs are reeling from consecutive losses and suffering from a significant lack of depth. The door to the conference title is cracked; Xavier can boot it wide open tomorrow.