Don't let the numbers, the rankings, or the overwhelming narrative fool you, today's game against Marquette was a must win for the Villanova Wildcats.
Jay Wright's men weren't going to miss the tournament if they lost today. They weren't going to be put on the bubble. Hell, they may not have even fallen off the one line for seeding purposes. But what they may well have lost today if they didn't beat the Golden Eagles was peace of mind.
Despite experiencing a remarkable amount of success on the court over the last decade, the Wildcats regularly face questions about the strength of their team come tournament time. Early exits and tournament flameouts are all too familiar for Wright in recent seasons, but this year's team feels different.
After a second-half shellacking at the hands of Xavier on Wednesday, the 'Cats needed to get their minds right. A loss at Marquette could easily help plant seeds of doubt into the minds of players who have seen that show before. That loss wasn't going to happen, not with this group.
Led by seniors Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, the Villanova marched into Milwaukee and asserted their dominance, running and gunning their way to an 89-79 victory. The 'Catts shot an impressive 58 percent from the field and put four players into double figures in a virtuoso performance.
Steve Wojciechowski's Golden Eagles weren't going to lie down. Marquette scrapped and scraped all game and had the Wildcats lead down to as little as five with under five minutes remaining in the game. Led by freshman Haanif Cheatham and Henry Ellenson, the Golden Eagles were searching for a win that would place them squarely on the bubble for NCAA tournament selection. But the Wildcats depth proved too much in the end as Marquette struggled to continue to get shots to fall.
Wojo's club dropped to 18-11 (7-9) on the season and will host Georgetown on Tuesday in a game that will have major seeding implications for the quickly approaching BIG EAST Tournament. The conference leaders, Villanova (25-4, 14-2), now return home looking to finish off the season with their top seed status intact as they host DePaul on Tuesday before the Hoyas come to town on the final weekend of the regular season.
What We Learned:
1. Much like noted evil organization HYDRA, if you cut off one head of Villanova they seemingly grow two to replace it. This Villanova team is the most balanced that Jay Wright has had since the '05-'06 team that featured Mike Nardi, Allan Ray, Randy Foye, and NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry. The 'Cats have an impressive arsenal and have shown that they can win games in a number of ways, which will be a huge asset come tournament time.
2. Marquette's young talent is both a blessing a curse. Led by Traci Carter, Cheatham, and Ellenson the Golden Eagles have one of their most talented teams in recent memory. The three freshmen have hit numerous big shots this season to keep their team in a ball game or pull out a win, but they've also done their fair share of internal damage. The problem with youth is that with it comes mistakes, and the Golden Eagles have made a lot of mistakes this season. Between consistency issues and late game mental breakdowns, Marquette's youth is a big reason why they'll likely be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday.
3. 'Nova fans should be making Jalen Brunson feel like the most important person on the planet the next few months. The freshman point has shown flashes of absolute brilliance in the last month or so and could be a game changer for the 'Cats next season should he return to school. Brunson will have the opportunity to team up with incoming five-star forward Omari Spellman should he come back to the Main Line for another season. If Brunson and Spellman do hit the court next season, the rest of the BIG EAST could be in a heap for trouble.