With the help of three consecutive victories at home, Villanova has inched its way from a No. 5 seed to a No. 4 in the latest NCAA Tournament projections released Tuesday by ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.
However, after the ninth-ranked Wildcats' 76-61 win over No. 13 Butler Tuesday night at Finneran Pavilion, a stretch of difficult road games beckons.
Villanova travels to Providence for a game Saturday and then on to Madison Square Garden and a matchup Tuesday with St. John's. The Cats take on Creighton on Feb. 1 at Wells Fargo Center before a Feb. 5 rematch against Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
"They're my last 4 (seed) at the moment, so 16th overall," Lunardi said Tuesday, before the Villanova-Butler game. "A lot of times you gain ground by standing still because teams in big conferences have to play hard road games. Villanova got one at Creighton but a lot of teams around them weren't getting that game, so (the Wildcats) started to percolate up the bracket."
After Quad 2 wins over Georgetown and DePaul and a Quad 3 win over Connecticut in an eight-day span, Villanova crept up from 20th to 17th in the NET. Tuesday night's win came in its fourth Big East home game of the season compared to two on the road – losing at Marquette, winning at Creighton.
"They're not going to win all their road games," Lunardi said of the upcoming stretch of games. "They're better than all those teams except maybe Butler, but not by enough where they're a significant favorite. Those are 50-50 games."
Lunardi has six Big East teams in his latest bracket, with Seton Hall and Butler holding 3 seeds, and Creighton and Marquette on the No. 8 seed lines. Georgetown is the sixth conference team, projected for a play-in game.
Butler had been a No. 1 seed a week ago in the bracket projections before losses at home to Seton Hall and at DePaul resulted in a slight drop.
As for Temple, the Owls picked up their first Quad 1 win of the season with last week's upset of Wichita State, but a road loss to SMU dropped their NET to 81.
"Temple is not on my board anymore," Lunardi said, "and at the moment, that board is 89 teams strong. It doesn't mean they can't get back there. They did get back on the board" after the Wichita State win.
Surprising Rutgers took a spot in the bracket as a 6 seed, joining three other Big Ten teams on that line, something that Lunardi doesn't remember ever seeing.
"Rutgers is going to make the tournament," he said, "and that might be as dramatic, if not more so, than when Northwestern finally made it two or three years ago. Northwestern had never made it but generally wasn't as bad as Rutgers on an annual basis."
Lunardi said he is "very confident" in Penn State, which came in as a 9 seed. In all, the Big Ten is projected to have 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament field at the moment.
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