Butler Bulldogs

Big East Tournament preview: Will Villanova get a 3rd shot at Butler?

Big East Tournament preview: Will Villanova get a 3rd shot at Butler?

Villanova arrives in Manhattan this week trying to take care of its one bit of unfinished business from last year. In between winning the Big East regular season title and the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats lost the 2016 Big East Tournament championship game to Seton Hall. 

The loss prevented Villanova from winning back-to-back Big East Tournament titles but ultimately was reduced to footnote status once Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beater bested North Carolina in the national championship game three weeks later.
 
But make no mistake -- the Seton Hall loss stung the Wildcats and particularly head coach Jay Wright. Sure, if you had to pick one you'd rather win a national championship than a conference tournament championship. But Wright might be the only coach in the country who would have to think about it for a minute. 

Wright idolized the legendary coaches and players who populated the Big East in the league's formative years and the seven seasons he spent coaching at Hofstra only deepened his appreciation for New York City basketball. The Big East, New York City and Madison Square Garden are as good as it gets for Wright.
 
Wright's only Big East Tournament title came in 2015, and at the time he said beating Xavier in the conference championship game that year was as good as winning a national championship. To be fair, he recanted that statement after actually winning the national championship last year. But you get the point -- the Big East Tournament holds a very special place in Wright's heart.   
 
Villanova brings plenty of motivation and momentum into the 2017 Big East Tournament. The Wildcats finished the regular season ranked second in the country with a 28-3 record that included a 15-3 mark in Big East play. They won their fourth straight conference regular season title by three games over second place Butler. In addition to atoning for last year's Big East Tournament title game loss, Villanova also sets out to lock up the No. 1 seed in the East Region of the NCAA Tournament. Win three games this week and the Wildcats will find themselves on the East Region's top line come Selection Sunday.
 
While Villanova is the favorite to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, there are a number of obstacles in their path to a conference tournament championship. Below is a breakdown of the teams and players standing in the Wildcats' way.
 
Biggest threat
This is an easy call. Second-seeded Butler swept the season series from Villanova, winning 66-58 at home in early January before pulling off a shocking 74-66 upset in February that snapped the Wildcats' 48-game winning streak at the Pavilion. If you hand Villanova two of its three losses, you qualify as their biggest threat in the conference tournament.
 
Butler is a mirror image of Villanova and twice beat the Wildcats at their own game. Josh Hart said it best -- Villanova got out Villanova'd. What he means is the Bulldogs beat the Wildcats by playing harder, playing smarter and playing together. Those are hallmarks of the Villanova program under Wright and have translated to tremendous success in the last handful of years. 

But in two regular season meetings, Butler exceeded the Wildcats in the effort and execution departments. The Bulldogs compete for the full 40 minutes and relish grinding out possessions. They are a smart, well-coached, veteran team that doesn't typically beat themselves.
 
A Villanova/Butler championship game on Saturday night would be the best case scenario for the Big East. The league would like nothing more than to showcase its two best teams battling it out on national television for the conference tournament title. The challenge for Butler will be actually getting to Saturday night. The Bulldogs lost six Big East games during the regular season, including a pair of losses to Creighton, who could potentially be Butler's opponent in the conference semifinals. 
 
Darkhorse
This designation goes to Providence, who finished the regular season on a six-game winning streak. The Friars face Creighton in the quarterfinals on Thursday night and likely would see Butler in Friday's semifinals. Providence split with both of those teams during the regular season and won't be lacking for confidence in either matchup. 

The Friars are led by one of the best coaches in the Big East in Ed Cooley and the most improved player in the conference in Kyron Cartwright, who averages 11.3 points and 6.8 assists while shooting a shade under 39 percent from three-point territory.
 
Cartwright is one of four Providence players averaging double-figure points for the season. The Friars are a battle-tested group that is quite capable of winning three games this week.
 
Player to watch
I'm going with two players here -- Seton Hall's Angel Delgado and Creighton’s Marcus Foster. Delgado and Foster were unanimous First Team All-Big East selections, and each has the potential to single-handedly lift his team to great heights in the Big East Tournament.
 
Delgado will be the best big man in Manhattan, averaging 15.7 points and a conference best 13.1 rebounds on the season. He had a staggering 25 double-doubles in the regular season and is a flat out menace on the offensive glass. Foster meanwhile is an explosive scorer who averages 18.5 points, second in the conference only to Hart's 18.7. Foster can score from anywhere in the floor and is nearly unstoppable when he heats up from the perimeter.
 
Best-case scenario
As impressive as Delgado and Foster have been, the two best players in the Big East wear Villanova uniforms. Hart and Jalen Brunson have been terrific from the outset of the season and form arguably the best 1-2 punch in the country. They are elite playmakers on the offensive end who also happen to be relentless defenders. 

Simply put, the best case scenario for Villanova is to ride their two best players to a Big East Tournament title. The Wildcats will be awfully tough to beat with Hart and Brunson firing on all cylinders and Kris Jenkins, Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo playing strong supporting roles.
 
The return of Darryl Reynolds is also noteworthy. Reynolds played 27 minutes in Villanova's regular season finale against Georgetown and showed no ill-effects from the rib injury that sidelined him for the previous five games. Not only does Reynolds provide much needed support in the rebounding and interior defense departments, but he also allows Wright to play with a solid seven-man rotation that could extend to an eight-man rotation with freshman forward Dylan Painter playing spot minutes.
 
Villanova has the star power and the newfound depth to roll through the Big East Tournament, ideally exacting revenge against Butler in the championship game.
 
Worst-case scenario
Villanova plays the winner of Wednesday night's game between St. John's and Georgetown in the quarterfinals on Thursday afternoon. The worst case scenario would be facing St. John's on its home court with the added momentum of a win over Georgetown the previous night. 

The Wildcats handled the Red Storm twice in the regular season and would be a heavy favorite in a third meeting. But an upset wouldn't be inconceivable -- Hart gets in early foul trouble, Jenkins and Bridges go cold from the perimeter and St. John's rides the home crowd to a massive upset. In this unlikely but entirely possible scenario, Villanova would squander the No. 1 seed in the East Region and have a full week to contemplate the shaky footing they would stand on entering the NCAA Tournament.    

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

No. 2 Villanova's run at the Pavilion ends at 48 with loss to No. 22 Butler

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — It started with 9:37 left in the game with a foul shot by Kelan Martin, and it ended with 4:18 left with a three-pointer by Martin.

In between, nothing went right for Villanova.

It was a 5½-minute nightmare.

No. 22 Butler ran off 18 straight points against No. 2 Villanova on Wednesday, turning a seven-point deficit into an 11-point lead, and then hung on for a 74-66 win over the Wildcats, ‘Nova’s first loss on campus in more than four years (see Instant Replay).

Villanova has lost three games this year, two of them to Butler.

“You have to give them credit,” Villanova sophomore Jalen Brunson said. “They were just hitting every shot. As a team, we just didn’t really lock in defensively. All credit to them for what they were able to do offensively.”

Villanova led 49-42 with just over 9½ minutes left, but during that 5½-minute stretch, Butler made 7 of 11 shots — including 4 of 7 threes — to take a 60-52 lead.

Villanova went 6½ minutes without scoring. The Wildcats missed six straight shots and committed two turnovers during that 18-0 run.

“Nothing really changed,” Butler junior forward Martin said. “We just stuck together.

“We knew we might get punched in the mouth today, it happens on the road, especially with a good team. We responded well and stuck with it and went on a run and just kept grinding it out, possession by possession.”

The loss was the first ever on campus for Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and the other Villanova seniors. The Wildcats had won 48 straight games at the Pavilion since a 2013 loss to Providence. That was Ryan Arcidiacono's freshman year.

Villanova dropped to 26-3 overall and 13-3 in the Big East, and Butler — which had never won at Villanova — improved to 22-6 and 11-5.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss will still give Villanova the outright Big East Conference title and No. 1 seed in next month’s conference tournament in New York. 

Creighton lost Wednesday night to Providence, leaving Butler and Villanova the only schools that can win the Big East regular-season title. 

“We’ve got to have better attention to detail, and it starts with me,” Hart said. “On the defensive end, we got exposed and it started with me and that’s something that we’ve got to have better attention to detail from the seniors and [have it] trickle down.”

Villanova got the lead down to six — with the ball — with three minutes left and got as close as five during a wild last couple minutes, but Butler made its last eight foul shots to secure the win.

“It seemed like the last couple minutes took an hour,” Martin said.

Brunson shot 9 for 13 for 24 points, but the rest of the Wildcats were a combined 16 for 44.

Hart scored 18, but Jenkins shot 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three, Mikal Bridges had just three points and Donte DiVincenzo just six.

“They just played better than us in every phase,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We just have to give them credit. Sometimes you come into a game, and the other team plays better. You try everything and our guys competed to the end, I’m proud of them for that, but we just ran into a team that played better than us tonight in every phase.”

Butler led 8-0 early, but Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes and took its biggest lead at 44-36 seven minutes into the second half.

But Butler — down eight against the No. 2 team in the country in a gym where the Wildcats hadn’t lost in four years — kept battling.

“I thought our guys played pretty loose and free and were able to make some open looks against their pressure,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. “They’re 15th in the country in defensive efficiency for a reason, but our guys just got into a rhythm and made some open shots.”

Martin had 22 points and eight rebounds for Butler on 7 for 11 shooting. Kamar Baldwin added 15 points before fouling out, and Avery Woodson scored 13.

Butler shot 51 percent and 40 percent from three. Villanova shot just 44 percent and 41 percent in the second half and made just 6 of 24 from the arc — 25 percent.

“Their physicality, we just didn’t handle it well,” Wright said. “We turned it over [and] couldn’t get any assists (eight on 25 baskets).

“They just do a great job of playing every possession. They get down, they don’t do anything different. They just keep grinding, grinding, and try to do the same thing. When they got down, they didn’t crack at all. They just kept executing.

“We didn’t crack either, but we just couldn’t get buckets. We didn’t execute well and a lot of it was their defense. They were just a better team than us tonight. We made more mistakes than they did.”

Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

Instant Replay: No. 22 Butler 74, No. 2 Villanova 66

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — No. 22 Butler scored 18 straight points down the stretch and stunned No. 2 Villanova, 74-66, Wednesday night at the Pavilion.

The loss was the third this year for the defending national champs and the second to Butler. It was also Villanova’s first loss on campus in more than four years.

Villanova led by as many as eight points early in the second half and by seven at 49-42 with 9½ minutes left before Butler scored 18 straight points over a 5½-minute span to take a 60-49 lead with four minutes left.

Villanova went scoreless from 10:35 left in the game to 4:05, a span of 6½ minutes.

Villanova cut the lead from 11 to four in the final minute but Butler made its final eight foul shots to secure its first win ever on the road against the Wildcats.

The loss was the first ever on campus for Villanova’s seniors. Villanova hadn’t lost at the Pavilion since February of 2013.

Sophomore Jalen Brunson shot 9 for 13 after his 7 for 7 against Seton Hall Saturday and finished with 24 points.

The rest of the Wildcats shot a combined 16 for 44.

Josh Hart scored 18 points on 7 for 18 shooting.

Kris Jenkins shot just 1 for 8 and 1 for 5 from three for three points, and Mikal Bridges also had three points on just 1 for 3 from the field.

Butler led 8-0 after 3½ minutes before Villanova outscored the Bulldogs 44-28 over the next 22½ minutes to take its biggest lead, 44-36, with 13 minutes left.

What it means
Butler, which beat Villanova, 66-58, on Jan. 4 in Indianapolis, completed a season sweep of Villanova. Butler was 0-7 before this year against the Wildcats.

Villanova fell to 26-3 and 13-3 in the Big East. Butler improved to 22-6 and 11-5, keeping alive its hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title.

One more Villanova win or Butler loss and Creighton loss would deliver the conference title and No. 1 seed in the conference tournament to the Wildcats.

The loss ended Villanova’s record 48-game winning streak at the Pavilion. The Wildcats’ last loss on campus was by a 55-52 score to Providence on Feb. 3, 2013.

Stat of the day
Hart, a 79 percent foul shooter, was 0 for 4 from the foul line and missed two front ends of one-and-ones.  

Turning point
The Wildcats led by six when Kelan Martin and Tyler Lewis made threes 45 seconds apart to tie the game at 49 and start that 18-0 run. Villanova never got the momentum back.

By the numbers
• Martin led Butler with 16 points and Kamar Baldwin added 15 before fouling out.

• Butler shot 7 for 13 from three in the second half and 10 for 25 overall.

• Villanova was just 5 for 19 from three.

• Villanova committed 10 of its 15 turnovers in the first half.

• Villanova shot just 10 for 16 from the foul line, with seven of the 10 makes coming in the final 79 seconds.

• Butler had 21 assists on 27 baskets, Villanova had eight assists on 23 baskets.

• Villanova scored 17 points in the game’s final 4:05.

• Senior post Darryl Reynolds, Villanova’s second-leading rebounder at 5.5 per game, sat out a fourth straight game with a rib injury. He’s considered day to day.

What’s next
On Saturday afternoon, Villanova plays its final game at the Pavilion until November of 2018, facing Creighton at 3 p.m.

Villanova will play most of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center next year.

The Wildcats finish the regular season at Georgetown on March 4 and open play in the Big East Tournament five days later.