9:00 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Villanova -5, Over/Under: 142
Don’t look now, but things have just gotten very interesting in the Big East, as the Tenth-Ranked Marquette Golden Eagles travel to Finneran Pavilion to face off against the fading Villanova Wildcats in a matchup featuring league foes traveling in opposite directions. Winners of four consecutive games, and twelve out of their last thirteen overall, Marquette (23-4, 12-2 in Big East) are a team that is certainly peaking at the right time. Six of their last nine outings have come by double-figures, including their most recent affair, a 76-58 drubbing on the road at Providence. Steve Wojciechowski’s charges Leading 31-20 at Halftime, the visitors saw their advantage nearly erased midway through the Second Half, though authored a decisive 18-6 surge and never looked back. With Big East leading scorer Markus Howard (25.3 PTS, 43.9% FG, 43.6% 3FG, 4.3 REB, 4.0 AST, 1.1 STL, 27.4 PER) out of sorts courtesy of a pulled groin, his teammates more than picked up the slack, with five total players scoring in double-figures, including Howard, who managed to knock down 8-of-8 Free-Throws in route to Fourteen Points despite 2-of-12 shooting from the field (16.7%). Sam Hauser (15.2 PTS, 47.6% FG, 40.6% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.6 STL, 0.5 BLK, 22.1 PER) and Sacar Anim (8.6 PTS, 45.8% FG, 39.2% 3FG, 3.1 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 10.0 PER) scored Eighteen Points apiece on a combined 15-of-22 shooting (68.2%), including 5-of-9 from beyond the arc (55.6%), Sixteen Rebounds, and Five Assists. Hauser’s younger brother, Joey (10.0 PTS, 46.2% FG, 45.2% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 2.3 AST, 0.4 STL, 14.4 PER), added another Fifteen Points on 6-of-8 shooting (75.0%), as the Golden Eagles as a team shot an efficient 54.9% from the floor, including 10-of-21 from downtown (47.6%). Defensively, the relegated the Friars to a pedestrian 38.6% shooting, including 16-of-37 inside the arc (43.2%) and 6-of-20 beyond it (30.0%), while outrebounding them 36-25 and permitting a scant Ten Assists. Saturday’s victory marked Marquette’s sixth away from home thus far in league play, matching their most in a single campaign since joining the Big East back in 2005.
Now in his fifth season in Milwaukee, Wojciechowski is really starting to see the fruits of his labor; Marquette appears a certainty to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in his tenure, and with a win tonight could very lock up their first Big East Regular Season Title since 2012-2013, when they shared that honor with both Georgetown and Louisville. Furthermore, at Twenty-Three Wins, they’ve already surpassed last year’s win total with two weeks left in the Regular Season, and have a real shot at surpassing the Program Record of Twenty-Eight which was set all the way back in 1970-1971. The Golden Eagles owe their success to their balance and depth, with their performances of late despite a hamstrung Howard providing further proof of this. They rank Second in the Big East in both Points Scored (78.0) and Points Allowed (71.0), while leading the conference in Field Goal Percentage (47.6%), Three-Point Shooting (41.1%), and Free-Throw Shooting (78.1%), as well as Opponent’s Field Goal Percentage (42.0%), Two-Point Percentage (45.8%), Three-Pointers (7.4) and Assists Allowed (11.9), and Blocks (4.5). These were all on display in their 66-65 victory over Villanova back on February 9th, in which the hosts shot 51.0% from the field, including 7-of-18 from three (38.9%). This one was fairly dramatic despite the home side leading by as many as Fifteen Points early in the Second Half, for ‘Nova cut the deficit to one inside of a minute left to play. The aforementioned Howard, poured in Thirty-Eight Points on 13-of-24 shooting (56.2%) including 4-of-11 from deep (45.5%), but was stripped of the basketball with fourteen second remaining, with the visitors calling Timeout. From there the Wildcats inbounded the ball, attempted to drive to rim, but were forced to kick the ball back out and settle for an off-balance jumper that fell short as time expired. Along with Anim, Howard accounted for all but ten of Marquette’s Sixty-Six Points, with the rest of the team shooting a dreadful 5-of-17 from the field. With the Junior Guard likely to still be hampered by his tender groin, it will be imperative for his teammates to step up in the same manner that they did against Providence.
Meanwhile, just what in the hell has happened to Villanova (20-8, 11-4 in Big East)? After winning at least Twenty-Nine Games in five consecutive seasons, of which included four Big East Regular Season Titles and most notably a pair of National Championships (2016 and 2018), the mighty Wildcats were 19-4, undefeated in league play, and ranked as high as Thirteenth in the country, but have since dropped four out of their last five contests, including each of their last three affairs, plummeting out of the rankings altogether. Then again, this is the second time this season in which Jay Wright’s charges have been unranked, with their schedule being largely the biggest reason as to why. Let’s be honest for a moment, for it’s be quite a while since the Big East was anything close to resembling a power conference, and ‘Nova has certainly benefitted over past five years from that inescapable fact. In the past, they’ve been able to compensate for that by embarking against a tougher non-conference schedule, which was once again the case in 2018-2019. However, this has really backfired on them, for about the only ranked opponent that they managed to best was then- No. 14 Florida State (66-60). Unfortunately, they came up short against both No. 18 Michigan (46-73) and No. One Kansas (71-74), but they also dropped inexcusable outing against the likes of Furman (68-76, OT) and Pennsylvania (75-78). Furthermore, this current dreadful display that began against Marquette back in early February has led to three consecutive losses to the likes of St. John’s (65-71), Georgetown (73-85), and most recent Xavier (54-66), the first time that that’s happened to them since the conference was reconfigured back in 2013. And what do all three of those teams have in common, you ask? None of them are ranked, which in all honesty makes Villanova’s 20-8 record all the more inflated. Defensively, they’ve still been arguably the best team in the conference, yielding a league-low 68.5 Points per Game, but where they’ve really fallen off is on the offensive end of the floor, where they rank Ninth in Field Goal Shooting (43.8%) and Sixth in Three-Point Shooting (35.5%).
Poor shooting was a common symptom in all three of those losses, with Villanova netting less than 40.0% of their attempts from the field in each affair, combining for a dreadful spell in which they’ve shot 39.9% overall, including 47.8% from within the arc and 27.5% beyond it. The weekend’s defeat Xavier could very well be this team’s nadir, or at least Wright hopes that’s the case, for this one was rather disappointing in comparison to the others that preceded it. Since joining the Big East, the Wildcats had eleven out of thirteen meetings with the Musketeers, but on this day completely collapsed, shooting 33.9% from the floor, including 10-of-23 on Two-Point Field Goals (43.5%) and 10-of-36 on Three-Pointers (27.8%), with their Fifty-Four Points representing their second-lowest total of the season. Furthermore, during a crucial stretch during the Second Half in which, the home side successfully pulled away, the visitors clanked eleven straight attempts from the field, went scoreless for nearly nine minutes, in route to shooting a pedestrian 4-of-18 from long-range (22.2%). And this is where Wright is really going to be smarting, folks; instead of trying to get to the Charity Stripe in search of some kind of spark, the ‘Cats pretty much whiffed in this department too, attempting a scant Four Free-Throws on the game. Senior Guard Phil Booth (18.4 PTS, 43.6% FG, 36.6% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 3.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 21.0 PER) continued his struggles, scoring Fourteen Points on 6-of-18 shooting from the field (33.3%), including 2-of-9 from three (22.2%), while Collin Gillespie (1.2 PTS, 40.6% FG, 37.3% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 3.0 AST, 1.2 STL, 17.0 PER) didn’t fare much better with Six Points on 2-of-6 shooting (33.3%), all of which came from downtown. About the only positive that came from the entire affair was Eric Pashall’s (17.3 PTS, 45.9% FG, 37.5% 3FG, 6.1 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.5 BLK, 20.8 PER) performance, for the Senior Forward shrugged of a rough couple of games to lead his team with Seventeen Points on 5-of-10 shooting (50.0%), including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc (60.0%), a far cry from the 6-of-22 he mustered in the previous two outings.