Villanova and Providence would have been the chalk matchup in last year's Big East Tournament but Seton Hall stunned the Wildcats in the quarterfinals. Ironically that gave Providence an easier road to their thrilling Big East Tournament win last year. This year the 1/4 game came to fruition with both Villanova and Providence advancing in blowout fashion. For some added sizzle to this Friday night game at Madisom Square Garden was that the league's newly crowned co-Players of the Year in Kris Dunn and Ryan Arcidiacono would go head-to-head. The game didn't disappoint.
It would come down to a questionable foul call by referee Brian O'Connell that allowed Arcidiacono to hit the game-winning free throws with 3.1 seconds left. When asked about the call after the game Ed Cooley called it "a 50/50 call" and would add that the game "doesn't come down to one play." Jay Wright was very complimentary of the Friars after the game and said Providence's "zone was awesome." Wright continued, "We've been good against zones, but we really struggled." Josh Hart was the lifeline for Villanova as Darrun Hilliard and Arcidiacono struggled to score for most of the night.
Here are three things we learned tonight:
Kris Dunn is Really Good
I know you saw this from me yesterday after Providence's 17 point win against St. John's, but Kris Dunn is an absolute beast. Those of you out there that disagreed with Arcidiacono sharing the Big East Player of the Year with Dunn could point to this game as a solid example. Arcidiacono hit the game-winning free throws and finished with 6 points and 2 assists but Dunn nearly had a triple-double and carried his team. Dunn's final line: 22 points, 9 assists, 7 rebounds and 2 steals. "He is big time," exclaimed Wright after the game. "We're pretty good defensively, and we're pretty good at pick-and-roll defense...I would say he's the toughest guy we've guarded in pick-and-roll defense."
Josh Hart is Really Good
Josh Hart carried Villanova in this one with Darrun Hilliard managing just 2 points in the second half before fouling out. Arcidiacono would seal the game with the final free throws with 3.1 seconds left but it was Hart and his clutch shooting that kept Villanova ahead for much of the night. Hart finished with 18 points on 7/10 from the field and seemed to always make a shot when his team needed an answer. Jay Wright said "there is something special about [Josh]...He's good enough to be a starter."
Villanova is on a Mission
Villanova is now 31-2 on the season and extended their win streak to 14 games. The Wildcats are now on the verge of their first Big East Tournament crown since 1995. Jay Wright has his guys focused and they are deep enough and skilled enough to fend off a grind-it-out team in Providence. "Being in the Big East finals, that's the best, man," said Wright who will make his first Big East Tournament finals appearance of his career. It will be the first for Villanova since 1997.
Providence got some solid contributions from two freshman tonight in Ben Bentil and Jalen Lindsey. Bentil played all 40 minutes and finished with his second straight double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. Lindsey hadn't been playing much of late and this was arguably his best game since November 22nd when he had 5 made 3-pointers against Florida State at Mohegan Sun. "Today he showed a lot of mental toughness," Cooley said when describing Lindsey's performance on the big state of a Big East Tournament semifinal. Cooley continued, "it's a big-time credit to [Jalen] to come off the bench in this type of game and pull through like that. As a kid, you live for those moments. You're praying the coach calls your number. He was mentally tough enough to pull through for us."
Villanova now awaits the winner of the second semifinal game pitting 3 seed Georgetown against 6 seed Xavier. With Virginia's loss to North Carolina in the semifinals of the ACC Tournament Villanova appears pretty well locked into a 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. Both coaches claimed ignorance to the selection and bracketing process when asked about it after the game. Cooley said it best when he said "just invite us to the dance so we can have a party." Villanova will be looking to have a party on the Garden floor on Saturday night and you have to like their chances.