While the Big East title may have been on line for the #6 Villanova Wildcats(27-3, 15-2) , the Xavier Musketeers(20-11, 10-8) made sure the Wildcats earned their crown on Thursday night. Heading into the locker room at halftime the Wildcats led by a mere 5 points. But like most of Nova’s games this season, the team found their groove in the second half going on to win 77-70.
This is the first time the Wildcats have won the regular season Big East championship since Rollie Massimino’s squad pulled in over 30 years ago in 1982.
For the second straight game the Wildcats Darrun Hilliard led the team popping in 19 points with 15 coming from the first half. Also for the second straight game the Wildcats were phenomenal forcing the opposing team to take terrible shots. Xavier shot a miserable 6-for-24 from beyond the arc and a disappointing 38% from the floor.
The Musketeers would have clinched a first round bye in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden had they pulled out a win against the Wildcats who now hold 1st place and a first-round bye.
At multiple points during the game, you could hear the announcers talk about the height of the five Villanova players on the court. At one point the tallest Wildcat on the hardwood was 6-foot-7 JayVaughn Pinkston. Going small is something the Wildcats have been forced to do when center Daniel Ochefu is in foul trouble. But never fear. Coach Jay Wright has had experience with a small backcourt ever since the unique four-guard line-up he brought to college basketball in 2006 led by Randy Foye and Allan Ray. In situations like the one the Wildcats came across last night, Wright relies on Pinkston and Hilliard to stand tall.
Hilliard’s recent impressive performances have brought questions regarding who is the Wildcat’s star player this season.
Is it sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono? Whose quickness and high basketball IQ has pulled the team out of high-pressure situations.
Is it senior James Bell? A possible NBA draft pick who picked up his 1,000 point off an alley-oop against Xavier.
Or is it Darrun Hilliard? Averaging 18.5 points in his last 4 games, the junior is becoming a clutch performer right before the big dance.
For now, the answer is none of them.
What makes this Villanova team so special is not only the wide variety of talent, but the chemistry the team has built as a whole. Each player thrives off the success of his teammates. In the first half Daniel Ochefu picks up a stellar block. In response Arcidiacono runs down the court and drains a 3-pointer. Now in the second half, James Bell catches a beautiful alley-oop from Arcidiacono. Next thing you know it, Arch looks like he is trapped in the corner. Nope! Finds the hole and dishes it Bell on the wing who nets a three-pointer.
Hustle and teamwork is what makes this Villanova team a potential #1 seed come selection sunday. They’ll have to catch a couple breaks, but this overachieving group of young talent will contend for a national championship.
The Wildcats will look to pull out a win in their final regular season game as they host upset-caliber Georgetown(17-12, 8-9) at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday at 2:oo ET. Coverage: Fox Sports 1