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Villanova vs. Marquette: Three Things To Watch For

The Wildcats will go for a three game sweep against the Golden Eagles in their Big East Tournament Quarterfinal.

NCAA Basketball: Fresno State at Marquette Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats will open their Big East Tournament on Thursday night against the Marquette Golden Eagles. The game is a quarterfinal matchup with the winner taking on either Seton Hall or Butler for a spot in Saturday’s tournament championship.

Villanova won both of their meetings with Marquette this season. The first was a bit of a track meet that ended 100-90. In the second game Villanova was playing with a short bench, and Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski tried to take advantage by turning it into an old school slug fest that Nova narrowly won 85-82.

Over the last three seasons, the Wildcats are 7-1 when facing a team they swept in the regular season for a third time in the Big East Tournament. The lone loss came to Seton Hall in the 2016 Tournament Championship, but that one turned out alright.

The game will tip-off at Madison Square Garden at 7PM EST. Here are three things to watch for:

Did Markus Howard Miss His Flight?

Obviously he didn’t. The Golden Eagles’ leading scorer played 29 minutes in last night’s game... and scored a season low 4 points. That’s right, the guy who earlier this year dropped 52 on Providence. The guy who has put up a combined 50 points in his two games against Nova this season. The guy who averages over 20 points a night and was playing to keep his season alive against 10th seed DePaul. That guy scored 4 points on 2-6 shooting, going 0-2 from deep.

I find it hard to imagine that Markus Howard would put up that kind of performance again when the stakes are so high for his team. His running mate, Andrew Rowsey, did show up to the tune of 25 points as the Golden Eagles barely got by last place DePaul. Marquette needs both of its scoring leaders to be on point if their going to take down the Wildcats, but so far this season only one of them has shown up in each game. If Howard comes up short again, they won’t just be out of the BET. They won’t make the NCAA Tournament.

Both Teams Are Fighting For Something

As much as I believe that winning the Big East Tournament is important to these teams, I’d be foolish not to acknowledge that it’s all about the NCAA Tournament at this point. For Villanova, the focus is on securing a #1 Seed, ideally in the East Region. While a loss doesn’t completely negate that outcome, winning the BET would all but guarantee it. What a loss would do is open the door for other teams to not only jump Nova for the Eastern Region, but knock them down to the #2 Seed line in the process.

For Marquette, it’s much more win now or go home. According to ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology, the Golden Eagles sit just outside the bubble in the “Last Four Out” category. Beating Villanova would not only move them to the right side of the bubble, it would probably lock them into the NCAA Tournament for good. Basically, this is Marquette’s first round of the Big Dance.

Mr. Big East (and everyone else in this game) Can Score

In the two games Marquette and Villanova played this season, Jalen Brunson has put up 58 points on 53% shooting and connected on 37% of his attempts from deep. Almost one-third of those points came from the freethrow line, where he made 19 of 22 attempts. Throw in 7 rebounds and 9 assists, and it’s fair to say that the Big East Player of the Year has owned the Golden Eagles this year.

He hasn’t been alone either. Between the two games the Wildcats have averaged five players in double figures. This isn’t surprising as ranks Nova as the #1 offense to Marquette’s 161st defense. But scoring on the Golden Eagles hasn’t been Villanova’s issue, it’s stopping them.

Marquette boasts a Top 15 KenPom offensive rating, and they’re the 3rd best three-point shooting team in the country. It would also be a good idea to keep them off the line, where they shoot 79.3% as a team. Villanova will have to put up a better defensive effort than they did in either of the previous two games if they’re going to beat Wojo’s team for a third consecutive time.