The No. 12-ranked Villanova Wildcats are set to take on the Marquette Golden Eagles on Wednesday night at Fiserv Forum. The ‘Cats come in winners of 9 of their last 10 - with the lone loss coming against the Eagles - who just had their seven-game win streak snapped at Providence on Sunday. That recent loss in a showdown that came down to the wire wasn’t enough to deter the pollsters from ranking the Golden Eagles, who remain in the top 25 at No. 24.
Big East Player of the Year frontrunners
The top 25 showdown in Milwaukee will feature not just Big East title contenders — it will also be a defining game in the Big East Player of the Year race. Justin Lewis has been on an absolute tear in conference play, averaging 17.5 points and 7.9 rebounds. The second-year freshman got his signature moment when he stunned VIllanova at the buzzer two weeks ago and has not slowed down since, following up with a 33-point, 9-rebound effort at Seton Hall.
His top challenger for the award is likely Collin Gillespie. Gillespie has had yet another stellar year, averaging 17.1 points per game on an incredible 43.1% three point shooting. He’s scored in double figures in every conference game this season and made 13 of his last 20 from behind the arc. The ‘Cats seem to go as Gillespie goes, as he’s just 4 for 21 from deep over their last three losses. Both stars will be relied upon for big games as they look to strengthen their resumes and move a step closer to a Big East crown.
Both Villanova and Marquette have pretty solid defensive teams, each boasting a top 25 adjusted defense per KenPom. In his first year with the program, Shaka Smart has infused his hair, and a bit of the VCU “havoc” defense. They’ll look to pressure the ball, force turnovers, and push the tempo. Darryl Morsell, last year’s Big Ten defensive player of the year at Maryland, will likely see time on both Gillespie and Moore. The Wildcats’ two leading scorers really struggled to get going in Marquette’s win at the Finn.
The first meeting between the two teams was ugly. Villanova struggled offensively the whole way, shooting just 37.9% from the field and making just 6 of their 24 three point attempts. They were able to hold Marquette to just 36.4% on twos, but their 13 threes proved to be the difference. It was a pretty clean game - with just 21 turnovers and 7 (!) free throw attempts combined. So I’d expect another physical, defensive struggle with points coming at a premium.
It’s no secret that depth has been this team’s weakness all year long. From the Jay Bilas’s of the world to the VUHoops comment section, many have taken note of the fatigue and lack of bench development within this year’s version of the Wildcats.
Bryan Antoine had seemingly solidified himself as the seventh man in the rotation until a recent ankle sprain sidelined him once again. Chris Arcidiacono’s minutes had all but evaporated with Antoine’s emergence, but he just logged 13 meaningful minutes against St. John’s. And Jordan Longino, in limited minutes, looks more ready to contribute every time he’s in there.
There’s really only been one constant concerning the reserves: Caleb Daniels. Daniels has been terrific this year, averaging 9.2 points on 39.7% from deep. He’s shooting the ball more efficiently, and looks really good defensively as of late. Now that his health issues have been behind him, he has been a reliable scorer off the bench and a pretty sound ball handler as well. ‘Nova desperately needs his productive play as they continue to search for consistent scoring from those not named Collin Gillespie or Justin Moore.
We’ve got another ridiculous start time as this game is set to tip off at 10 p.m. EST on FS1. Here’s to hoping the ‘Cats can escape Milwaukee with a statement victory and stay atop the Big East standings.