Wednesday’s game against Creighton marks the end of the home slate for Villanova. Coming off a brutal loss to Butler on Sunday, the Wildcats will hope that their own campus continues to be a place of success for them, as Villanova has been perfect at the Pavilion this season. They’ll meet a Creighton team who handed them an 86-70 loss less than three weeks prior, but is coming off a tough road loss of their own last weekend to Xavier.
A lot to pay attention to in this one, so let’s get started.
The Wildcats had an ugly month of February, but one win against the Bluejays can change a lot of the narrative. First and foremost, a win would give Villanova control of its own destiny in the conference with just one game remaining. While this team had far bigger goals before the season, winning the league seems like a necessity at this point because the alternative is losing back-to-back games to essentially cost the Wildcats the Big East.
Additionally, any chance of a top-two seed in the NCAA tournament likely goes out the window with a loss. Creighton is Villanova’s last known chance at a Quad 1 win, which is pretty important since the team has just two of them this season. A loss would not only leave them spiraling at the wrong time but also would make their seeding ceiling likely a No. 3.
So on one hand, it’s a win on Senior Night, a good shot at a conference title and everyone has big dreams as the Wildcats enter the Big East and NCAA tournaments. Or it’s a loss and Nova Nation instead has nightmares of early March exits of yesteryear.
Hard to defend
In the last meeting between these two teams, Villanova allowed a season-high 86 points as Creighton shot 59.3 percent from the field. It was somehow worse than the numbers indicate, as the Wildcats looked like they were playing defense on roller skates for most of the game.
Now what lies ahead is an opportunity to see if they’ve corrected anything. In a similar setup last week, Villanova bounced back from a rough defensive effort against St. John’s and played perhaps their best defensive game of the season in the rematch.
As has been the case much of the season, defense is the key to the Wildcats’ March hopes. In the last few weeks, they’ve played well at times (vs. St. John’s and UConn) and looked awful at other times (at Creighton and Butler). A strong defensive effort on Wednesday may not permanently fix all the issues, but it’s a start.
Since the opening tip of the 2020-21 season, depth has been the biggest question mark for Villanova. The Wildcats are still struggling to get much of anything when Jay Wright turns to the bench.
Cole Swider and Brandon Slater are inverted versions of each other — useful on one end of the floor but shaky on the other — while Eric Dixon and Brian Antoine remain projects. When you add it all up, the weight of the team, particularly offensively, lies with the starters. So much so that Slater’s 11-point effort against Creighton last time is the only 10+ scoring effort by a bench player in 2021.
All four players have shown strides at times this season, but much like the defense in the aforementioned section, it’s been stop-and-start for the better part of a month. For Villanova to beat Creighton and make noise in March, the bench will need to offer some consistency.