Marquette can’t get caught looking ahead to next week’s highly anticipated showdown with its first Big East title within reach.
Villanova can ill-afford many more setbacks if it hopes to return to the NCAA tournament.
The 17th-ranked Golden Eagles look keep pace atop the conference standings Saturday when they visit a Wildcats team trying to further bolster its tournament resume.
Marquette (19-6, 10-3) sits in a three-way tie with No. 8 Syracuse and No. 11 Georgetown atop the Big East, and the Orange and Hoyas square off Saturday. The Golden Eagles and Syracuse then meet Monday in Milwaukee.
Marquette is the only club of the conference’s top three with a sub-.500 road record, but it improved to 3-5 away from home with a 67-46 win over Seton Hall on Tuesday, outscoring the Pirates 40-19 in the second half. Three of Marquette’s five remaining games are on the road.
“The only time you have a chance to win on the road is to overwhelm teams with your intensity, your fight, and your spirit,” coach Buzz Williams said. “It’s incredibly hard to win on the road no matter who you’re playing.”
The Golden Eagles snapped a three-game losing streak at Villanova with an 82-78 win last season.
After missing the NCAAs for the first time since 2004 last season, Villanova (17-10, 8-6) appeared headed for perhaps another disappointing campaign, starting 2-3 in Big East play. The Wildcats, however, have made a strong push for a potential at-large bid, having gone 6-3 since, including back-to-back wins against then-top five opponents in Louisville and Syracuse.
Villanova has more recently won four of five, with 3-point shooting playing a big role as it’s shot 43.5 percent from distance. Coach Jay Wright’s team trailed Rutgers by 10 at halftime Monday but made 6 of 10 3-pointers in the second half en route to a 71-63 win.
The Wildcats are 14-0 when hitting six or more 3-pointers.
“All these experiences for us are big,” Wright said. “If you’re a team that’s already been to the Sweet Sixteen or the Final Four, all these experiences, you’ve done it before. All these experiences for this team are great and I think they are getting mature now, that you can still win and learn.”
Marquette has also won four of five, shooting 50.2 percent from the floor over that span.
Vander Blue has seemingly found a more consistent groove, averaging 17.6 points on 55.7 percent shooting in his last seven games. He averaged 13.9 points while shooting 43.2 percent in his first 17.
Jamil Wilson has also stepped up, averaging 11.4 points on 51.4 percent shooting in his last five games after averaging 4.0 on 33.3 percent shooting in his previous four.
For the Wildcats, their success has largely depended on point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the Big East’s second-leading freshman scorer at 11.7 per game. Arcidiacono is shooting 41.9 percent from 3-point range while averaging 14.1 points in Villanova’s wins, compared to 7.6 points on 17.0 percent from beyond the arc in its losses. He’s also riding a hot streak from the perimeter, hitting 15 of 30 from beyond the arc over the last five contests.
Villanova lost last season’s two meetings with Marquette after winning five of the previous six matchups. The last seven have been decided by an average of 3.1 points.