Villanova has already made history this week despite playing a game. Now the second-ranked Wildcats can make some more when they visit Cincinnati in a Big East matchup on Thursday.
Victories last week over then-No. 1 Connecticut and then-No. 17 Georgetown lifted Villanova (21-2, 11-1) to No. 2 in the AP poll, matching the program’s highest ranking. The other appearance at No. 2 was a two-week stint in December 1995.
“We hear (talk of the rankings) all the time, so you think about it because everybody talks about it around here,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “We spend all our time with each other talking about, ‘Forget about it.’ It’s such a mythical thing and everybody talks about it.”
The 69-64 win over UConn on Feb. 13 moved the Wildcats alone atop the Big East, and Sunday’s 75-65 victory over the Hoyas gave the team 10 straight conference wins. Villanova will set a school record for consecutive league victories by beating the Bearcats (18-9, 7-6).
The Wildcats also have won 10 straight overall for the second time this season, a first for the program, and now seek their longest win streak since an 11-game run during the 1994-95 season.
A victory Thursday also would allow the Wildcats to match the best 24-game start in school history at 22-2, achieved previously by the 1937-38 team.
It’s been nearly that long since Villanova last played at Cincinnati, winning 70-68 on Dec. 20, 1947 in its last visit.
The Wildcats, who will be the highest ranked team ever to play at the Bearcats’ Third Fifth Arena, continue to go with a four-guard starting lineup featuring Allan Ray and Randy Foye.
Ray was the Big East player of the week after averaging 22.5 points and making 10-of-20 from 3-point range in the wins over Connecticut and Georgetown. He’s second on the team with 18.9 points per game.
Foye tops the squad with 20.0 per game. The senior scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds against Georgetown.
Foye and Ray lead Villanova against a Cincinnati team looking for a big win to boost its hopes of getting an NCAA tournament bid. The Bearcats, though, have lost 12 consecutive games to Top 25 teams, including six this season.
James White scored 22 points to lead Cincinnati to a 66-54 win over Providence on Friday, giving the Bearcats back-to-back victories for the first time since a 10-game win streak from Dec. 14-Jan. 7. They won 82-65 at Syracuse two days earlier.
The team shot 31.1 percent (23-for-74) from the field against Providence, its second-worst shooting performance of the season.
“Our front line went 5-for-25 (shooting), yet somehow our guys found a way to win,” said Cincinnati coach Andy Kennedy. “This is a resilient group.”
The Bearcats’ shooting has been erratic all season, getting held below 40 percent in 10 games and eclipsing 50 percent only four times.
Cincinnati has won four in a row at home and is 13-3 at Fifth Third Arena this season.