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March 12, 2015

Villanova opens Big East Tournament with three-point barrage

The Wildcats tied a school record by shooting 17-29 from behind the arc

In conference tournaments, the first game can be scary for top seeds. Some of the tricky factors at play are a neutral court, hungry opponent desperate for their season not to end, and oftentimes that opponent is already in a rhythm after playing the day before.

Villanova found this out the hard way last year, falling to eighth-seeded Seton Hall in the same quarterfinal they played on Thursday at noon against Marquette at Madison Square Garden.

“After we lost the first game last year, it wasn’t losing to Seton Hall that had us concerned going into the tournament,” Jay Wright said this past Saturday. “It was how we played. You can get beat by anybody in this league, especially in tournament play, but we didn’t play aggressively defensively.”

Against Marquette, the Wildcats were aggressive, even to their own detriment sometimes, but the offense is the story of the day. Without much rim protection, Steve Wojciechowski went to a zone to protect against Daniel Ochefu, JayVaughn Pinkston, and ‘Nova’s ability to slash to the rim. The Golden Eagles did a decent job taking away the inside game, but the defensive scheme left them vulnerable on the perimeter.

And holy mackerel, did ‘Nova ever take advantage in an 84-49 blowout.

The Wildcats were unconscious from behind the arc, tying a school and tournament record with 17 made 3-pointers on only 29 attempts. Some of these were wide-open looks after good ball movement, but in Marquette’s defense, the ‘Nova guards (Darrun Hilliard, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Dylan Ennis) were also dialing up long distance from NBA range. It was like the Knicks were playing in MSG, if only the Knicks could actually shoot. By the time Marquette went man-to-man, the game’s outcome was already decided.

I think Wojo is going to be an excellent coach at Marquette once he can bring in his own highly touted 2015 recruiting class, but there was no amount of effort (or floor slapping) his team could bring today to slow down ‘Nova. They simply didn’t match up talent-wise, and the Wildcats shot the lights out.

“We know we can space the floor,” Arcidiacono told the Fox Sports 1 crew after the game. “Once we’re making shots, we’re a tough team to beat.”

Like most coaches, all Wright wants to talk about is defense, an area where his team wasn’t too shabby, either. ‘Nova’s guards, especially Ennis, get up in their opponents’ grill and make life difficult on them. As a team, they held a Marquette team that shot 56 percent from the field and rang up 78 points against Seton Hall yesterday to 39 percent and 49 points.

More specifically, they limited star guard Matt Carlino (28 points against SHU) to 2-11 from the field. “I was really pleased with how we guarded him,” Wright told Fox Sports 1. “It took five guys to guard him.”

Now ‘Nova has their feet wet, but the competition will be ramped up in the semis on Friday night against either one of two teams they recently smoked at home, Providence and St. John’s. As Jay Wright said, both teams were shorthanded in their last meetings with the ‘Cats.

Personally, I’m rooting for a rematch with the Johnnies. Adding Chris Obekpa, Jamal Branch, and the revenge factor from a shellacking at Wells Fargo Center last Saturday to the proceedings could potentially set up a great one. The atmosphere will be awesome.