The No. 3-ranked Villanova Wildcats (13-1, 1-1 Big East) will return home to the Wells Fargo Center Saturday night for the first time since December 10th.
The Wildcats will face off against the Marquette Golden Eagles, who are currently 11-4 on the season and 2-1 in conference play. Marquette has grabbed some quality top-100 wins against the likes of VCU, Wisconsin, Vermont, LSU, and Providence. However, they have came up short against the top-50 (ish) teams they’ve faced this season; Purdue, Wichita St., Georgia, and Xavier.
Here are three things to watch for:
Villanova Bounces Back
Jay Wright’s Villanova teams have not lost back to back games since the end of the 2012-2013 season, when they lost to Louisville in the Big East Tournament and were defeated by North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Four full seasons have gone by without Villanova losing two games in a row.
Unfortunately for Marquette they have caught the ‘Cats coming off a loss a few times in that stretch. In 2014 the Wildcats went on the road and beat Marquette after losing to Creighton. The same thing happened in 2016 after the ‘Cats lost to Xavier the previous game. Last year at around this time Villanova returned home and beat Marquette after losing at Butler a few days earlier.
Wojo’s squad did finally beat Villanova last year, but that game was in Milwaukee and the ‘Cats were not coming off of a loss. The culture Jay Wright has built is has strong as ever, and it will be a tough task for Marquette to come into the Wells Fargo Center and give the ‘Cats a 2nd straight loss.
The Markus Howard Show
Marquette is coming to Philadelphia off a 95-90 victory over Providence at the Dunk. In that victory point guard Markus Howard poured in 52 points, shooting 6-10 from two-point land, 11-19 from three, and 7-7 from the arc. The 52 points tied a Big East record for most points in a game, the other 52 point performance coming from Providence’s Marshon Brooks.
Howard only stands at 5’11”, but he made a name for himself as a freshman. The Arizona native lead the country in three point shooting last season, shooting 54.7% on a high volume of 150 attempts. That is even made more impressive when you consider his age. Howard is extremely young for his grade, he played nearly his entire freshman season at only 17 years old.
As an 18-year old sophomore, Howard has been just as successful. He is averaging 22.6 points per game, to go along with 3.5 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game. His three point percentage has fallen all the way down to 40.3%, but he has nearly matched last year’s volume, shooting 149 three’s, leading the country. Howard has also been automatic from the foul line this season, going 45-45 from the line.
Marquette’s Defense Has Its Problems
Last season Marquette was known for their fast paced, shoot ‘em up offense and their suspect defense. It’s the same story this year, as Marquette’s 15th ranked offense is held down by their 152nd ranked defense. Wojo’s biggest problem on that end is his biggest offensive weapons provide very little help on the defensive end. Starting guards Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey both stand at only 5’11”, and do not make up for their lack of size with athleticism or quickness. Villanova gaurds Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo have the advantage not only with their size, but with their athleticism. Freshman wings Greg Elliott and Jamal Cain are both athletic and more proficient on the defensive end for Marquette, but they are only freshman. Going up against experienced guys like Mikal Bridges and Eric Paschall tilt the match up to favor the Wildcats.