MILWAUKEE, Wis. — It’s accepted as a given with Villanova. If the Wildcats can get better, they will get better. They’ve earned the assumption. You saw it last March when even without Collin Gillespie they gave eventual NCAA champion Baylor its toughest game of the tournament. You saw it in the championship seasons, and other years when they’ve been better in February than January.

Let’s ask a simple question: What if they don’t get better? What if they can’t? What if they pretty much are now who they will turn out to be?

It’s not bad. Nobody is going to want to play Villanova in March. You look at efficiency rankings on KenPom.com and Villanova has the sixth-most efficient offense in Division I, and the 21st-most efficient defense. That’s plenty elite.

But let’s repeat, the Wildcats don’t have a future lottery pick on the roster, and when just briefly Wednesday’s game hung in the balance, it was a Marquette player, Maryland transfer Darryl Morsell, making the winning plays, cementing an 83-73 victory.

» READ MORE: Is Caleb Daniels the comeback player of the year in college basketball?

It had been a different Marquette player, forward Justin Lewis, making the winning plays last month at Villanova, and Lewis was the leading scorer again at the Fiserv Forum. This was the first time Villanova had been swept in a Big East home-and-home since 2016-17, so it was a first for any player on the current roster.

Styles can make matchups, but maybe it wasn’t so much the style of play that won the day for Marquette so much as the style of player that was giving Villanova problems.

“We didn’t have the intensity coming out. They did a great job of playing hard and playing fast,” said Villanova guard Caleb Daniels, who had 10 of his team’s first 16 points coming quickly off the bench, finishing with 15. “It was tough to get adjusted to their speed early on. It took us some time to get adjusted to it.”

Speed and length?

“Speed and length as well, yep,” Daniels said.

“I give Shaka a lot of credit — he’s put together in an incredibly short period of time an outstanding team,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright, referring to coach Shaka Smart, in his first season. “I love their team. They share the ball. They play hard. They just jumped on us early and we didn’t handle that pressure well.”

Villanova had four turnovers in its first seven possessions.

“I’ve got to say, their pressure, it surprised me a little bit,” Wright said. “How much it did [impact Villanova], but it did. I saw our guys tentative, not being aggressive to go at them.”

So that’s it, no Big East title for Villanova? Providence is in front of the Big East at 9-1 and the Friars will have to prove they have title-winning mettle, with a home-and-home against 9-3 Villanova still ahead. Wright made the point that the beauty of the Big East, there’s always a next big test, which for his team comes Saturday when Connecticut arrives wanting to prove itself.

The surprise isn’t that Villanova lost this kind of game at Marquette. The Wildcats have lost their share of such games over recent years. It was more the home game that qualified as an offensive clunker, followed four games later by this one.

Also, Marquette getting its home crowd rocking isn’t just good for the Big East — it’s good for college basketball. You look around and it’s not the same place where Al McGuire coached or Dwyane Wade played, but the banners were moved over, history transferring. Like Villanova and so many of the Big East schools, Marquette’s very identity is centered around hoops.

If the Wildcats were head and shoulders above the Big East, they’d have come out here and proved the league still rolls through them. They did not do that. They got outrebounded in the first half, Marquette getting to almost as many offensive rebounds as Villanova had defensive boards. Villanova was ahead for zero seconds of this one, its first possession produced an air ball rushed before the shot clock went off … which meant it went off anyway. Next trip, a giveaway up top. Marquette jumped out, 10-2. Timeout, Wildcats.

Playing from behind the whole way is a tough way to go. Brandon Slater led Villanova with 18 points, a noteworthy development, Slater being aggressive, getting to the foul line, where he made 9 of 9. But even his night came with an aggressive asterisk. A first-half Slater three-pointer got Villanova within 30-27. Except whatever Slater then said, he was whistled for a technical. Marquette made the two free throws, the start of an 11-0 run.

“He cursed,” Wright simply said of what had drawn the technical, the curse apparently qualifying as a taunt.

A brief second-half comeback wasn’t fully in the cards when Villanova made just 4 of 17 second-half threes (23.5%) and two of the four makes were in a meaningless last minute.

I was talking to someone the other day who sees as much Big East basketball as anybody, and he still had Villanova as the cream of the crop, maybe the most likely to hoist a trophy on a Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. Again, Villanova remains a team you wouldn’t want to play in March. But there are other sides of such coins — which teams would Villanova, improved or not, wish to avoid in March?

A team that looks like Marquette, apparently. Was Marquette the canary in the coal mine? Just assuming Villanova’s improvement is right around the bend. Can you do that?