Villanova Wildcats

Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

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Villanova makes it look easy at MSG


NEW YORK -- Phil Booth insisted he was so focused on defense and finding open teammates that he never glanced at the scoreboard.

"I didn't even notice the score was 19-0," he said.

Villanova was rolling, and if a game can be over in the opening 5 minutes, this was the one.

The second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.

About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.

Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer five seconds into the game and the Wildcats used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.

Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to Madison Square Garden. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.

"Spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it's going to be really, really tough to dig out," Jordan said.

The Bulldogs failed to find an offensive excavator.

Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17 after their first bucket.

Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.

The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.

This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.

Bridges had 18, Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016. The four straight Big East title games are one shy of Syracuse's record five straight from 1986-1990.

"I think we feel like we're a new team rather than a team that's stale at the end of the year," Wright said.

The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.

Villanova vs. Xavier -- the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 -- had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.

The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.

Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.

"They had a great game plan for me. Sometimes, you just can't beat it," Martin said.

The Wildcats improved to 14-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.

"That was one of our best defensive performances," Wright said.

The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Booth's at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25. Told Villanova could put probably four 3-point shooters on the court, Jordan cracked, "seemed like six."

Big picture
Butler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.

"We'll be fine," Martin said. "We've got something to play for."

Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.

Up next
Butler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate

Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.

Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

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Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

The Big East Tournament tipped off Wednesday and runs through Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. If recent history is any indication, Villanova will be there for the duration. The Wildcats have played in the Big East championship game in each of the last three seasons. 

Villanova's story
Villanova has won the Big East Tournament two of the last three years, with the exception coming in 2016 when it lost to Seton Hall in the final seconds of the title game. The Wildcats moved past that setback and won their next six games in the NCAA Tournament on the way to a national championship.

Jay Wright's team arrives in Manhattan in an unfamiliar position this year — as the No. 2 seed. Villanova was the top seed in the Big East Tournament in each of the previous four seasons but Xavier carries that distinction this week. 

Despite not winning the Big East regular-season championship, the Wildcats are still in good shape to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their 27-4 record. Just getting to the Big East title game should be enough to keep Villanova on the top line come Selection Sunday. 

Villanova's path
The Wildcats will play Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals. Villanova swept the Golden Eagles in the regular season, winning, 100-90, in early January at the Wells Fargo Center before escaping with a 85-82 win at Marquette three weeks later. 

Marquette has no trouble scoring — it averages 82 points per game. The Golden Eagles are led by their sharpshooting backcourt duo of Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, two guys capable of scoring 30 points on any given night. Expect the tempo to be fast and furious when Villanova and Marquette hook up in the quarterfinals.

If the Wildcats get past Marquette, they'll face either Seton Hall or Butler in the semifinals. Xavier looms as their most likely opponent in the championship game.

Player to watch
I could take the easy way out and go with the newly-minted Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson or the red-hot Mikal Bridges, but keep an eye on Donte DiVincenzo. The reason is simple — he loves Madison Square Garden. DiVincenzo made six three-pointers and scored 25 points in Villanova's win over St. John's back in January. Last year as a freshman, he scored 19 points at St. John's in the regular season and 25 points against the Red Storm in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.      

Villanova will cut down the nets for the third time in the last four years. The Wildcats will use a little extra motivation from not winning the Big East regular-season championship to get it done. Villanova-Xavier is the title game everyone wants to see and I think we'll get it. Look for the Wildcats to record a third win over the Musketeers this season and enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East Region.  

Villanova duo brings home hardware

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Villanova duo brings home hardware

No. 2 Villanova doesn’t tip off in the Big East Tournament until Thursday. However, that didn’t stop the Wildcats from proving how dominant they are in the conference a day early.

Junior guard Jalen Brunson was named Big East Player of the Year and forward Omari Spellman was selected as Big East Freshman of the Year on Wednesday.

Brunson has averaged 19.0 points on 52.8 percent shooting from the field and 40.5 percent three-point shooting this season. Additionally, he has put up 4.8 assists and 3.0 rebounds per contest to lead the Wildcats to a 14-4 Big East record. Brunson, who was also tabbed as one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Player of the Year honor, is now the third Villanova player to win the conference’s POY award in the past four seasons (Josh Hart in 2016-17 and Ryan Arcidiacono a co-winner in 2014-15).

Spellman more than lived up to the hype of being the conference’s preseason pick for top freshman by securing all nine possible votes to take home the hardware. He has notched 10.9 points (48.6 percent shooting), 7.8 boards and 1.5 blocks a night. Spellman became just the third ’Nova player to ever receive Big East Freshman of the Year accolades (Scottie Reynolds in 2006-07 and Tim Thomas in 1996-97).