For the time being, Villanova is still the biggest dog in the yard. The Wildcats are currently riding a six-game winning streak, which includes victories over Xavier (by 31 points no less) and Butler, two would-be usurpers of the Big East throne.
Another challenger will step to the Wildcats on Wednesday as the Marquette Golden Eagles, proud owners of a 65-64 upset of Providence just over a week ago, come to the Pavilion for a Big East scrap. After dropping their first two Big East contests of the season, the Golden Eagles have clawed their way back to .500 in conference play thanks to that dog fight with the Friars and another brutal match with St. John's. On Tuesday, they;'ll have to give it everything they've got to take down the 'Cats.
How to watch, listen or stream
Game time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Radio: 540 ESPN (Marquette), 610 Sports (Villanova)
Stream: FOX Sports Go (where available)
Line: Although Marquette opened on some sites as a 19-point underdog, the Golden Eagles are now sitting at just -18 in this one.
Records ATS: Marquette 6-9. Villanova 10-5.
Three things to watch
1. Freshmen Fever
In one corner, there's Jalen Brunson. In the other, Henry Ellenson. Sure, they won't match up against each other on a one-on-one basis but this is the first time that the two most hyped freshmen in the conference will share a court.
Thus far, Ellenson has been the frontrunner for Freshmen of the Year honors. The 6-foot-10 forward from Rice Lake, Wisconsin is putting up some gaudy numers (15.9 PPG, 9.9 RPG). He has been leaned on from the first moment he stepped on campus, ranking third in the conference in field goal attempts (215).
Unfortunately, Ellenson has had some trouble figuring out how to be as efficient as he was outside of conference play once Big East teams come knocking. His offensive rating on the year is strong (102.9) but that number plummets to 82.7 in league play. Going up against a frontcourt that includes Daniel Ochefu will make for another stiff challenge.
As for Brunson, he has benefited from a more experienced roster around him. One that does not need to rely so heavily on his individual play. He is putting up 10.5 points per game (only seven in league play) and has been at least somewhat efficient as he learns from Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart, who have been the bigger stars on the wings.
2. Make 2s Count
The 3-point revolution is real and its been televised. Everywhere you look, more and more players are relying on 3-point shooting and more teams are crafting their gameplan around the 3-pointer. Jay Wright is not one to be left behind in the archaic systems of, you know, a few seasons ago, so Villanova is hoisting up its fair share of triples (432, 17th in the nation). However, that has not kept Wright and his team from valuing their shots from inside the arc. Though just 321st nationally in 2-point field goal attempts, Villanova is second in the land in 2-point shooting, knocking down 60.8 percent of such shots. You can thank Ochefu and Hart for that, as each is shooting above 60 percent from inside the arc.
3. Tough Week
The Golden Eagles are embarking on one of the toughest two-game stretches any team in the country will have to endure this season. After taking on Villanova, Marquette will clash with Xavier, a team projected as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament by most bracketologists. To get off on the right foot, the Golden Eagles will need to stop a six-game losing streak against Villanova (one that includes an 84-49 demolition in the Big East Tournament a year ago) and win their first game ever at the Pavilion. No problem, right?