by John Fanta
NEW YORK — In its progression since re-configuring in 2013, there has been one constant in BIG EAST Basketball – Villanova’s regular season reign.
On Wednesday night inside the Wells Fargo Center, the Wildcats showed why they’ve won the last four regular season conference crowns. Even more importantly, Jay Wright’s team showed why they could hoist their second national title trophy in three years this April in San Antonio.
The Wildcats never trailed in an 89-65 rout of #10 Xavier on Wednesday. It was a complete showcase by Villanova, as the ‘Cats defense came to life. After allowing an average of 92 points per game in its first three BIG EAST games, Wright’s squad locked up the Musketeers for nearly 20 points below their season average.
(John Fanta interviews Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson after the Wildcats win over Xavier/video courtesy of Big East Shootaround)
“We were really connected defensively,” said Jalen Brunson, who scored 17 points to go with five assists. “Even if this were a close game, I feel like we would have been able to come out with the win because of our defense.”
It wasn’t close, though, and it was more of the same for this series. Villanova moved to 9-1 against the Musketeers since the two started meeting in BIG EAST action.
The consistency of being at the top of a conference that has seven NCAA Tournament contenders within it is something Villanova doesn’t shy away from talking about.
“Every game in this league is a big one,” said Mikal Bridges (15 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists). “If you lose one, somebody’s waiting to take over your spot (in the standings).”
The Wildcats’ 3-1 start has them right behind #25 Creighton, who stands at 4-1 in the early portion of league play. But, if the Wildcats play like they did Wednesday night, that’s a gear that nobody can catch.
- A rare BIG EAST Friday features a match-up that you should keep an eye on when Marquette visits Butler. The Golden Eagles are 3-2 and coming off a big NCAA Tourmament resume boosting win over Seton Hall, 84-64. Meanwhile, Butler’s on a three-game slide since knocking off #1 Villanova at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Can the Dawgs right the ship at home? Keeping Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey from breaking out is as tough a defensive task as any in the BIG EAST at the moment.
- How will #13 Seton Hall respond from its first BIG EAST loss? The Pirates were the lone unbeaten in the league before the defeat at Marquette and are still in a strong spot at 3-1. Up next is Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas at the Rock on Saturday. The showdown pits the BIG EAST’s top two rebounders up against each other when the Hoyas’ Jessie Govan (11.8 RPG) meets the Pirates’ Angel Delgado (11.6 RPG). While the Pirates struggled to generate offense at Marquette, let’s chalk that up as an abnormal occurrence for a team still in the top half of the BIG EAST with over 80 points per contest. SHU should bounce back Saturday ahead of Top-25 showdowns with Creighton and Xavier next week.
- The same Musketeers who have dropped two straight will look to flip the script Saturday. It’s a Top-25 showdown at Cintas Center when Creighton visits Xavier. This match-up features two of the best wing duos in America in the Jays’ Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas against the Musketeers’ Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura.
- The BIG EAST boasts five players on the John Wooden Award Midseason Watch List, which is tied for the most by any conference – Seton Hall’s Angel Delgado, Villanova’s Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Xavier’s Trevon Bluiett, and Xavier’s Marcus Foster.
- When Providence visits DePaul Friday at 8:30 PM ET on FS1, give it a watch. For the first time, two head coaches will be mic’d up in an all-access, commercial-free broadcast. Providence’s Ed Cooley and DePaul’s Dave Leitao agreed to the task. From pregame to the halftime speeches to in-game huddles, you’ll be able to hear everything the coaches are saying.
Follow @John_Fanta and @NCAAHoopsDigest Saturday for live coverage of Georgetown – Seton Hall (Noon) and Villanova – St. John’s (8 PM).