NEW YORK – When Villanova tries to win its first Big East championship in 20 years on Saturday night and lock up a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, it will have to find a way to neutralize the inside game of Xavier.
The Musketeers (21-12) came into the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden as the sixth seed but knocked off No. 3 Butler, 67-61 in overtime, and No. 2 Georgetown, 65-63.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (31-2), winners of 14 straight games, can secure a No. 1 seed with a victory. . A loss would reduce, but not eliminate, their chance of being on the top line, but Wisconsin and Arizona possibly could jump over the Cats if each wins its conference tournament.
Villanova defeated Xavier twice during the regular season and knocked down 28 three-point baskets in the two contests – 15 in an 88-76 win on Jan. 14 at the Pavilion and 13 in a 78-66 victory in Cincinnati on Feb. 28.
When the Wildcats rode their three-point shooting in the first game, they were outscored 46-18 in the paint. They did a better job of shutting down the inside in Game 2, scoring 24 points in the paint to Xavier's 26, and held 6-foot-10 center Matt Stainbrook to just three shots.
Stainbrook, the Musketeers' top scorer at 12.2 points per game, scored 20 and pulled down nine rebounds in the win over Georgetown. Xavier led by 21 at one point in the second half before a furious rally by the Hoyas narrowed the deficit to one.
Xavier also is dangerous from three-point range. Guard Myles Davis has 55 treys on the season, Trevon Bluiett 44 and Remy Abell 36. Abell shoots almost 43 percent from beyond the arc.
The Wildcats routed Marquette, 84-49, in the quarterfinals hitting a program record-tying 17 three-pointers in the process. They hit just seven of 23 from deep against Providence but came up with a 63-61 victory on two free throws by Ryan Arcidiacono, the conference co-player of the year, with 3.1 seconds to play.
Sophomore Josh Hart, winner of Big East's sixth man award, has led Villanova in scoring in both Big East games. He hit for 20 with five threes against Marquette, and sank three more baskets from the three-point line while scoring 18 points against Providence.