A regular season that has been anything but normal for Villanova can still end in very familiar fashion. With a win tonight over No. 14 Creighton, the 10th ranked Wildcats can secure their seventh Big East regular season title in the last eight years.
The journey to get to this point has been arduous, to say the least. A delayed start to the season and a 27-day hiatus due to a pair of COVID-19 related shutdowns have made this the most challenging of Jay Wright's 20 seasons as Villanova head coach.
Wright's players have endured numerous lengthy quarantines, daily testing and months apart from family and friends. They've sacrificed quite a bit just to play basketball. Capping this season with a Big East championship would carry extra significance.
"We always sit down at the end of the year and we look at our accomplishments, our failures, the lessons learned," Wright said on Tuesday. "At the end of this year, with everything that we've been through, the life lessons, it's going to be unbelievable. If we're fortunate enough to win a Big East championship I think that would be something we would take great pride in."
A win tonight would not only allow Villanova to hang yet another Big East regular season championship banner, it would make them the No. 1 seed in next week's conference tournament and provide a sizable boost to their NCAA Tournament seeding.
A loss puts Creighton in the driver's seat for a league title with one regular season game remaining. Let's take a look at three big storylines heading into this Top 15 showdown.
It will be a Senior Night unlike any other tonight at Finneran Pavilion. With no fans in the stands, Villanova will honor seniors Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Kevin Hoehn prior to tip-off. Cosby-Roundtree has been outside of Villanova's bubble rehabbing his leg injuries, so he won't be able to participate in the on-court ceremony.
The Villanova athletic department has arranged for the seniors' parents to safely attend tonight's game, something they haven't been to do all season.
Even without a packed house, there will still be plenty of emotion in the building. This is a senior class that has accomplished quite a bit. They've won regular season championships, conference tournament championships and a national championship as freshmen in 2018. They've also had the rug pulled out from underneath them right before the postseason last year.
These seniors truly relish the opportunity to play in March. Both Gillespie and Samuels said that taking advantage of the 5th year of eligibility the NCAA is offering this year is a 'possibility,’ something they will consider once this season is over.
But chances are tonight is the last time either player will put on a Villanova uniform at Finneran Pavilion.
Villanova enters tonight's game with revenge on their minds following a 16-point loss at Creighton on Feb. 13. The Wildcats are rarely beaten as soundly as they were that day.
Wright was asked if his team can take any positives from that loss.
"Wow," Wright answered, before pausing for about five seconds. "I guess that we didn't quit. We kept playing to the bitter end. It wasn't pretty ... that's probably the best I can take out of it."
Figuring out a way to slow down Creighton's offense will be the Wildcats' first priority in tonight's rematch. The Bluejays scorched Villanova's defense for 86 points on 59 percent shooting in the first meeting of the season. Point guard Marcus Zegarowski got wherever he wanted on the floor on the way to a game-high 25 points. Creighton was lethal from long range, converting 12 of 26 three-point attempts.
Villanova prides itself on effort and energy on the defensive end of the floor. They've been inconsistent in that regard this season. This would be as good of a time as any to rise to the occasion and keep the explosive Creighton offense under wraps.
Dialed in from long distance?
Defense wasn't the Wildcats' biggest issue in their most recent loss at Butler on Sunday. To say their shooting was a problem would be a colossal understatement.
Villanova made just 2 of 27 three-point attempts, a 7.4 percent success rate. It was their worst long range shooting performance in two decades.
The law of averages indicates they'll shoot the ball better tonight.
But one thing is certain — Villanova will keep shooting. One of Wright's favorite mantras is 'Shoot 'em up and sleep in the streets.’ Regardless of whether shots are falling, he wants his players to shoot with confidence. If they make them, great. If they don't, they'll 'sleep in the streets' and live with it.
Sometimes basketball is a simple game. If you make shots, you have a good chance of winning. Villanova is due for a three-point barrage. If it happens tonight, they'll likely be celebrating another Big East championship.