With the Big East championship wrapped up, Villanova’s greatest motivation for the regular-season finale may be an opportunity to hurt a rival’s NCAA tournament hopes.
Georgetown has a chance to earn a first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament and pull off back-to-back wins over the league’s top teams if it upsets the No. 6 Wildcats on the road Saturday.
Villanova (27-3, 15-2) had already claimed a share of the Big East regular-season crown before Thursday’s visit to Xavier, then won it outright for the first time since 1981-82 with a 77-70 victory.
"This is a big accomplishment," said senior James Bell, who reached 1,000 career points. "It’s a testament to how hard we’ve worked, but we can’t stop there."
Coach Jay Wright’s team has already set school records for regular-season and conference wins.
"We have great respect for this league," Wright said. "To win this league is a hell of an accomplishment."
While the Wildcats will enter the Big East tournament as the top seed, the Hoyas (17-12, 8-9) would be happy just to get the sixth seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. They currently stand seventh and will have to play a first-round game unless they move up a spot by winning Saturday while St. John’s loses to Marquette.
Georgetown, which hasn’t finished with fewer than 20 wins or missed the NCAA tournament since 2008-09, might need a few more victories to earn an at-large berth – assuming it doesn’t win the league tournament. The Hoyas have helped their cause with three wins over ranked teams, including a 75-63 upset of No. 13 Creighton on Tuesday.
Senior Markel Starks had 17 points and a career-best 11 assists in his final home game, and spoke afterward of how the season hasn’t gone as expected.
"Obviously it weighs on you but you can’t feed too much into it," said Starks, averaging 21.0 points in the last three games. "We come to work every day. People are going to say what they’re going to say, you can write what you want to write, so it is what it is."
Starks and sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who had 18 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday, make up a Hoyas starting backcourt that Creighton coach Greg McDermott called "as good as anyone in the league."
However, McDermott also pointed to lesser-known guard Jabril Trawick making a major difference. The junior rejoined the starting lineup three games ago and has averaged 14.7 points, nearly six above his season mark.
The Hoyas went 1-4 earlier this season when Trawick was out with a broken jaw.
"His intensity, his attitude is infectious and everybody feeds off it," coach John Thompson III said. "He helps to give everyone else on our team courage."
Trawick’s return from injury came against Villanova on Jan. 27, but he played only 12 minutes and committed three turnovers as the Hoyas lost 65-60. Starks had 20 points but Smith-Rivera was held to eight, less than half his season average, and shot 2 for 11.
Bell led the Wildcats with 16 points in a game neither team led by more than eight.
"Both teams are just so physical and so tough," Wright said after his second straight win in the series and third in the past 11 meetings.
Villanova’s Darrun Hillard has totaled 45 points on 13-of-21 shooting in the past two games, hitting eight 3-pointers.