Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Marquette Golden Eagles set their sights on the eighth-ranked Villanova Wildcats in an important Big East Conference clash at the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday afternoon.
Marquette, once a disappointing afterthought in the league, has been playing well down the stretch to thrust itself back into the conversation for a possible run at the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Eagles have won five of their last six games, and are currently 17-11 overall and 9-6 in league play. Clearly a win, on the road, against the Wildcats would go a long way in proving their worth, especially with only two games remaining on the schedule.
Villanova is already a lock for the field of 68, but the Wildcats have bigger fish to fry right now, as they are currently in a dogfight with Creighton for the top spot in the Big East. At 13-2, they have a half-game lead over the Bluejays, with battles against Xavier and Georgetown left on the docket.
When these teams met in Milwaukee on Jan. 25, Villanova won in a 94-85 shootout. The Wildcats have won the last two meetings and own a 13-9 lead in the all-time series.
Davante Gardner scored 26 points and Jake Thomas nailed six 3-pointers to finish with 22 to lift Marquette to a 75-73 win over Georgetown on Thursday night. The Golden Eagles limited the Hoyas to 39.2 percent shooting in the contest, while turning the ball over only seven times.
Any success Marquette has had this season has been bred from its ability to defend and the play of Gardner. The Golden Eagles are letting up only 67.4 ppg on 41.8 percent shooting on the year, while netting a modest 72.1 ppg themselves. Gardner (15.1 ppg, 5.8 rpg) is clearly the best offensive weapon the team has, even though he gets the majority of his minutes off of the bench. Todd Mayo (10.1 ppg) is also a reserve who can score, while Jamil Wilson (12 ppg) is the top scoring option among the starting rotation. Derrick Wilson (5.5 ppg, 4.1 apg) isn't a big-time scorer, but his ability to set up his teammates is invaluable.
Villanova had a much easier time posting a victory in its last bout, rolling over Butler, 67-48. James Bell and Darrun Hilliard each scored a team-best 11 points for the Wildcats, who limited the Bulldogs to 30.6 percent shooting to make up for their own struggles from the floor (.397).
Just like Marquette, Villanova is a tough team to score on. The Wildcats are only letting up 67.2 ppg on 40.5 percent shooting, while proving to be a strong team on the glass, leading the Big East on the boards (37.4 rpg). Villanova gets more production on offense than the Golden Eagles, ranking second in the Big East in scoring (79.4 ppg). Bell (15.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg) is the team's top scorer and tied for the best mark in rebounds. JayVaughn Pinkston (14.5 ppg, 6 rpg) and Hilliard (13.6 ppg) are also reliable scorers, while Ryan Arcidiacono (10 ppg) is a streaky shooter who can become extremely dangerous if he gets into a rhythm.