Villanova Wildcats

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.    

Big run at end of 1st half lifts No. 10 Villanova over Ohio

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AP Images/Laurence Kesterson

Big run at end of 1st half lifts No. 10 Villanova over Ohio

BOX SCORE 

Less than 72 hours after a humbling loss to one team from Ohio, Villanova used two of its young standouts to win against another squad from the Buckeye State.

Saddiq Bey scored 19 points and Justin Moore added 18 to lead No. 10 Villanova past Ohio 78-54 on Saturday.

The win came after a 76-51 road loss to No. 16 Ohio State on Wednesday night. Villanova fell behind the Buckeyes early and never recovered.

"In that game, we kind of backed down," Moore said. "We learned that you have to come out and you have to keep fighting. That's what Villanova does and that's what we were able to do today."

After a sluggish start Saturday, Villanova (2-1) broke the game open with a 27-4 run in the final 6:36 of the half, turning a one-point deficit into a 43-21 lead.

Bey and Moore combined for 9-for-12 shooting and 4 of 6 from beyond the 3-point line for 26 points in that run. The Wildcats finished 14 of 31 from long range.

"I thought we had just two or three bad three-point attempts today," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "I think the numbers are a reflection of Justin and Saddiq moving the ball and getting good shot opportunities."

Ohio shot 3 of 20 from behind the arc, with its first conversion from Ben Vander Plas three minutes into the second half after a 0-for-10 start. The Bobcats committed 16 turnovers.

Vander Plas led the Bobcats (3-1) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Jason Preston added 16 points and eight assists.

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 points and 11 rebounds and Colin Gillespie scored 10 points for Villanova.

"I told our guys that with the exception of that seven-minute stretch at the end of the first half, we played pretty even with them" Ohio coach Jeff Boals said. "Against a team like (Villanova), the margin for error is pretty small. It was a good teaching moment for our guys."

Big picture 

Villanova: After losing by 25 at Ohio State on Wednesday night in the Gavitt Games, Villanova is likely to take a slight dip in the next AP rankings.

Ohio: After starting the season 3-0 with road wins against St. Bonaventure and Iona, the Bobcats had trouble dealing with Villanova's forwards.

Up next 

Villanova: Plays Middle Tennessee on Thursday in Myrtle Beach Invitational in Conway, South Carolina.

Ohio: Plays No. 24 Baylor on Thursday in the Myrtle Beach Invitatio

No. 10 Villanova falls flat in blowout loss to No. 18 Ohio State

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USA Today Images/Joe Maiorana

No. 10 Villanova falls flat in blowout loss to No. 18 Ohio State

BOX SCORE 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Not even Ohio State coach Chris Holtmann saw this coming.

His 18th-ranked Buckeyes looked NCAA Tournament-ready in their third game, racing out to a big lead, playing solid defense and smothering No. 10 Villanova 76-51 on Wednesday night for a significant early-season victory.

"Probably two or three times have I ever been part of a game as a head coach where almost everything kind of goes your way," Holtmann said. "And that's reality. Very rarely do you have games like that."

Ohio State (3-0) came out firing, with Duane Washington Jr. opening the game with a pair of 3s and CJ Walker adding another for a quick 9-0 lead. The Buckeyes bolted to a 19-3 lead, led by as many as 27 and held a 40-22 advantage at the intermission of this Gavitt Tipoff Game, a November series that matches up the Big Ten and the Big East.

"We knew we had to have a big start because we've been starting games off slow," said freshman guard D.J. Carton, who finished with 11 points and was one of five Ohio State players to reach double figures.

Villanova didn't show signs of life until a 9-0 run late in the first half. But Kyle Young started the second half with a dunk and the Buckeyes never backed off the gas, leading by as many as 30.

"Our players' preparation and their play was the reason for tonight's win," Holtmann said. "I thought across the board they were really ready for this game."

Washington led the Buckeyes with 14 points on 4-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc. Luther Muhammad had 11 points and Kaleb Wesson added 10 points and 11 rebounds.

Cold Wildcats 

Villanova never could find its shot.

The Wildcats hit 30.6 percent from the floor, including 10 of 30 from 3-point range. They were held to a dozen points in the first 16 minutes, and the Buckeyes consistently controlled play in the paint.

Jermaine Samuels had 14 points and Cole Swider had 11 for the Wildcats (1-1).

"We have a lot to learn," said coach Jay Wright, whose teams have won two national championships in the past five seasons.

"These guys have to learn to play together," he said. "They have to learn to trust each other."

Big picture 

Villanova: Starting a pair of freshmen, Villanova could never catch up with the hustling Buckeyes. The crowd in Columbus chanted "overrated," which could be the case.

"There's things we should have been prepared for," Wright said. "(Ohio State) was prepared. We as a staff have to go back and look at what are we doing. Do we have too much stuff in, where basic concepts are not really dialed in on?"

Ohio State: Most everything was clicking in the Buckeyes' third game of the season. If they can sustain it, they should be able to play with nearly any team in the country.

"Tonight was one of those nights where it was just flowing," said Walker, who had 10 points.

Poll implications 

Ohio State should take a big leap, while Villanova can expect to drop out of the top 10.

Tip-ins

The 25-point margin of victory over an AP Top 10 team was the largest for the Buckeyes since March 6, 2011, when they beat Wisconsin 93-65. ... Wesson had his second double-double in three games. ... The Buckeyes are 3-0 in Gavitt Tipoff games. The Wildcats fell to 2-2 in the event.

Up next 

Villanova: Hosts Ohio on Saturday.

Ohio State: Hosts Stetson on Monday.