Seton Hall-Villanova Preview

After winning its first Big East regular-season title in eight years, Villanova now has its sights set on the school’s first Big East tournament championship in nearly two decades.

Accomplishing that might also bring about the Wildcats’ second-ever No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.

Third-ranked Villanova will be heavily favored Thursday when it opens postseason play in a Big East quarterfinal matchup with Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden.

The Wildcats (28-3) wrapped up a 16-2 run through the conference with a 77-59 home win over Georgetown on Saturday. They’re one of the top contenders for a top seed in the NCAA tournament, which would be their second and first since 2006, which was also the last year they claimed the Big East regular-season crown. Their only conference tournament title came in 1995.

"I don’t think there’s that much of a difference with a one and a two (seed)," said Jay Wright, who was named conference coach of the year for the third time Wednesday. "Being considered up there is great, but it’s no concern for us. The Big East tournament will be fun."

Perhaps it’s easier for Wright to minimize the important of NCAA seeding given what his team was able to accomplish despite low outside expectations. The Wildcats were unranked to start the season and were pegged to finish fourth in the Big East before setting a school record for regular-season victories.

"I don’t try to predict our record but if someone forced me to, I never would’ve predicted 28-3," Wright said.

Villanova has won six straight and has been especially hot from 3-point range of late, going 7 for 15 against the Hoyas and shooting 42.4 percent from distance over three contests this month. Darrun Hilliard II is averaging 18.6 points over his last five games while shooting 58.5 percent from the field and 14 of 28 from beyond the arc. He averaged 13.6 points on 46.9 percent shooting over the season’s first 26 games.

Ryan Arcidiacono also ended the season with a strong stretch, hitting 20 of 38 3-point attempts over his final eight games.

The winner of Thursday’s meeting will play either fourth-seeded Providence or No. 5 St. John’s in a Friday semifinal. Villanova can get there with its 13th win over Seton Hall in 14 tries, only losing during that span on Feb. 25, 2013.

The Wildcats swept this season’s two meetings by a combined 33 points and were 12 of 23 from long distance in an 83-67 road win on Jan. 8.

Eighth-seeded Seton Hall (16-16) is making its first quarterfinal appearance since 2003 after Wednesday’s 51-50 first-round win over Butler. The Pirates held the Bulldogs to 2 for 18 3-point shooting after letting them go 11 for 18 in a 71-54 loss at Butler on Saturday.

Eugene Teague tallied 14 points and 11 rebounds, and scored all of Seton Hall’s points over the final 9:30 on Wednesday.

"Eugene played terrific," coach Kevin Willard said. "No one really knew this. He’s been battling the flu since Saturday. I wasn’t even sure he was going to be able to play as bad as he looked yesterday."

These teams haven’t met in the Big East tournament since a 61-60 win by Villanova in the first round on March 10, 2004.