Villanova is in uncharted territory. The Wildcats have lost three games in a row for the first time in six years. They've plummeted out of the Top 25 rankings and have seen their potential NCAA Tournament seeding take a massive hit.
Not many people outside the Villanova program feel sorry for Jay Wright and company, given the Wildcats' historic run of success over the last five years.
To make matters worse, the road ahead doesn't get any easier Wednesday night when 10th-ranked Marquette visits the Finneran Pavilion looking to complete a season sweep of Villanova and essentially lock up the Big East regular-season title.
Here are the major storylines entering the biggest game of the season for both teams:
The Wildcats' three-game losing streak has come entirely on the road. It began with a blown 19-point lead against St. John's on Feb. 17. Three days later, Villanova was thoroughly outplayed by a mediocre Georgetown team. Then there was last Sunday's 12-point loss at Xavier when the Wildcats went more than nine minutes in the second half without scoring.
Villanova looks gassed. They hardly resemble the team that won 11 straight games from late December to early Februrary. Wright has largely relied on a seven-man rotation with the occasional appearance by freshman Jahvon Quinerly. The Wildcats won a lot of games with that pared down rotation but it seems to have caught up with them now. Villanova's two best players — seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall — are averaging 36 and 37 minutes per game, respectively, in Big East competition. Junior Collin Gillespie also averages well over 30 minutes per game in conference play.
To his credit, Wright has tried to adjust. He's getting Booth, Paschall and Gillespie more rest early in games. But that strategy hasn't had the desired impact. Booth and Gillespie are really struggling with their outside shots. Booth is shooting just 20 percent from three-point territory in the last seven games, while Gillespie has converted just 19 percent of his three-point attempts in the last five games.
Villanova thrives when they are making shots. When their best shooters are struggling to this extent, it can get ugly.
There should be plenty of electricity in the Finneran Pavilion on Wednesday night. Villanova will honor its senior class prior to the last on-campus home game of the season. Booth and Paschall are the headliners — they will go down as two of the most accomplished players in program history. Both are two-time national champions who have been instrumental to the Wildcats' overwhelming recent success.
Booth has played 140 career games. Villanova has a 122-18 record in those 140 games. He scored a team-high 20 points as a sophomore in the 2016 National Championship Game and was a driving force on the 2018 championship team, generally considered the best team in school history.
Paschall has improved dramatically in his four years at Villanova after transferring from Fordham. He's having an outstanding senior season and has played his way onto the margins of being a first-round pick in the 2019 NBA draft.
Emotions will be running high as Wright honors Booth, Paschall and the rest of the Villanova seniors. The Wildcats just have to channel that emotion properly to pull of a signature victory.
Don't call it an upset
Despite riding a three-game losing streak and facing the top team in the Big East, Villanova is listed as a five-point favorite against Marquette. The Golden Eagles have won 16 of their last 17 games, including a 66-65 decision over Villanova earlier this month. They are led by the soon-to-be Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard, who averages more than 25 points per game and scored 38 points in that win over Villanova.
Everything points to the Wildcats' struggles continuing. Everything except for the time-tested 'wounded animal' theory. It's one of the best adages in sports — nothing is more dangerous than a wounded animal. And Villanova certainly fits the bill at the moment, coming off those three straight ugly losses and sitting a game and a half behind Marquette in the Big East standings with three games left in the regular season.
A wounded animal comes out in attack mode when confronted. Expect to see that from Villanova on Wednesday night.