Villanova will open the Big East tournament as the No. 2 seed and take on No. 10 DePaul in the quarterfinals Thursday in New York City.
The Blue Demons upset No. 7 Xavier 71-67 in the opening round Wednesday night.
Villanova, ranked No. 11 in the nation, finished the regular season at 24-7, and claimed a share of the conference title with Creighton and Seton Hall at 13-5.
The Wildcats have won three consecutive Big East tournaments and four of the last five. Since falling 64-63 to Seton Hall in a quarterfinal matchup in 2014, the Wildcats are 14-1 in this event.
Villanova, which doesn’t feature one scholarship senior, concluded the regular season with a gritty 70-69 victory last Saturday at Georgetown.
For young players who have never participated in the Big East tournament, the challenge can be daunting.
“I’ve just heard it’s a great experience and that we’ve just got to stay focused on each other, the players and the coaches,” freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl told Inquirer.com. “We have to stay focused on the task at hand.”
Robinson-Earl leads all Big East freshmen in rebounding, averaging 9.4 per game.
Saddiq Bey leads the Wildcats in scoring, averaging 16.1 points per game overall. In Big East action, Bey is averaging 17.3 points.
Collin Gillespie, another key leader for Villanova, is second on the team in scoring with 15.1 points per game overall.
“We’re going to need a lot from him and a lot of his leadership in the tournament,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said of Gillespie.
DePaul (16-16) lost both regular-season meetings to Villanova — 79-75 in overtime Jan. 14 on the Main Line and 91-71 Feb. 19 at home.
After being routed 93-55 in the regular-season finale at Providence to fall to 3-15 in the conference, the Blue Demons came back to beat Xavier for their first Big East tournament win since 2014.
DePaul is 3-12 all-time in the Big East tournament.
Paul Reed, an All-Big East second-team selection, led DePaul with 23 points and 12 rebounds for his 18th double-double this season. Charlie Moore added 18 points and nine assists.
But the task will be extremely difficult to oust Villanova. The Blue Demons have lost 20 straight games in this series dating to 2008.
For a team that started 12-1 and fell below .500 entering the Big East tournament, it sure rebounded in a big way.
“We can’t do anything about yesterday,” DePaul head coach Dave Leitao said before the tournament. “We can just be better tomorrow.”
Villanova awaits, but the Blue Demons remain confident they can keep winning.
“Those kinds of things happen, but you have to make them happen,” Leitao told the Chicago Tribune of potentially winning the tournament. “We have to remain resilient. We have got to remain positive. We’ve got to understand it’s still out there for us.”
–Field Level Media