On a night where the Michigan State Spartans were upset by the Nebraska Cornhuskers in East Lansing and the West Virginia Mountaineers were taken down in Morgantown, the Villanova Wildcats proceeded with caution against the upset-minded Seton Hall Pirates.
The Pirates have made a habit the last two seasons in taking down the vaunted Wildcats, the flag bears of the BIG EAST and two-time regular season champions, upending them in the BIG EAST Tournament in 2014 and then last year in Newark in overtime.
As the only time in the country to issue 'Nova a loss in each of the last two seasons, Isaiah Whitehead and The Hall sought to have history repeat itself Wednesday night in Newark. Despite their best efforts, their upset bid proved to be futile. Junior wing Josh Hart - rising star in the BIG EAST Conference and beyond - and his 15 points fueled the 'Cats into the win column again as they will trek down I-95 with their heads held high after edging out the Pirates with a 72-71 win to move to 17-2 on the year.
It was far from easy down the stretch as some costly turnovers and sloppy play were to be had. A Hart free throw put the Wildcats up three in the waning moments, and although Isaiah Whitehead sunk his free throws, the Pirates attempt at a take down was snuffed out as time would expire.
Three things we learned:
1. Life in the BIG EAST remains difficult
We could very easily substitute 'BIG EAST' for 'the nation for college basketball teams' and it would still likely be correct. Or, well, definitely. Villanova eluded defeat all night from a hungry Seton Hall team that kept chipping and chipping and chipping away at them from bell to bell. It's a testament to Villanova for being able to find ways to win in a wacky world of college basketball that's been chaining together more upsets than the longest Super Smash Bros. combo you ever got. That said, it's not getting easier: Villanova will host Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil and the fantastic Friars of Providence this Saturday afternoon. Get your popcorn ready.
2. Josh Hart continues to trend upwards
While Kris Dunn gets all sorts of attention - richly deserved, at that, make no mistake - but Josh Hart is rising up the charts. The junior guard from Silver Spring, Maryland is showing he's more than just the reigning BIG EAST 6th Man of the Year. Hart's a bona fide stud (and you can't teach that). He led the Wildcats in points and rebounds on Wednesday night, shooting 4-for-9 from the field, 2-for-5 from the 3-point lien and 5-for-6 from the free throw line including a pivotal free throw that wound up being the difference in the ball game. Watch out fort Hart as the season goes on. At this rate, he's about to skyrocket.
3. 'Nova cracked the code of a usually stout Seton Hall perimeter defense
In conference play going into Wednesday night, Seton Hall only allowed a 3-point field goal percentage of 28.0 percent. Only Providence (22.2 percent) was allowing less 3-point field goals to be converted in the early goings of BIG EAST play, and the Hall had been very good defending along the perimeter all season, ranking 49th in the country in that category. So Villanova shooting 52.6 percent against the Pirates from long range is an eye-popper to say the least. Five different Wildcats netted at least one 3-pointer and four netted at least two. For a team that needed to find their stroke, Villanova was able to do it and accomplish that feat against a very tough defense. That should only give the confidence going forward and, for their sake, hopefully not sink the Pirates' ship.