Seton Hall-Villanova Preview
Villanova has a chance to become the first team since 1999 to sweep all of the Big East titles over a two-year span.
Stopping that dominance would give Seton Hall a conference tournament championship for the first time in 23 years.
The third-ranked Wildcats look to beat the Pirates for the third time this season Saturday night at Madison Square Garden and head into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed with major momentum.
Villanova (29-4) has already won the last two regular-season conference championships, and can now make it two straight tournament titles. It would become the first Big East team to take all four in consecutive seasons since Connecticut in 1998-99.
The Wildcats, who beat Xavier in last year's tournament final, have enjoyed a relatively easy road to this championship game. They avoided an early scare and pulled away for an 81-67 victory over Georgetown on Thursday before beating Providence 76-68 in Friday's semifinals.
"Yeah, it's something that, you know, we look at and we love," forward Kris Jenkins said of playing for another championship. "Taking it one game at a time. We're looking forward to it."
Jenkins is making a case to be the tournament's most outstanding player, scoring 21 points against the Friars after getting 15 a day earlier. He's averaging 20.7 points on 54.6 percent from the floor and 48.1 from 3-point range over the past seven games.
Production from Jenkins might be important again since Daniel Ochefu is dealing with an ankle injury sustained against the Hoyas. The 6-foot-11 senior was limited to 15 minutes off the bench Friday but chipped in eight points.
"Daniel does a lot for our team," Jenkins said. "When he's not out there, everybody on the floor has to step up, not just me. We were able to do that (Friday) and come out with a win."
Ochefu had 20 points and a season-high 18 rebounds in a 72-63 win over Seton Hall (24-8) on Jan. 6. However, he only scored six while foul trouble limited him to 17 minutes in a 72-71 road win Jan. 20. Jenkins, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono picked up the slack by combining for 37 points.
Both of those defeats came during a 1-4 stretch for the Pirates, who are 11-2 in 13 games since with a chance to win the Big East tournament for the first time since 1993 - before all but one of their current players were born.
Seton Hall followed Thursday's 81-73 win over Creighton with an 87-83 victory against fifth-ranked and second-seeded Xavier.
"This is what we talked about before we even came here, getting Seton Hall back on the map back to where it was," Khadeen Carrington said of a team that will be making its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
Like Jenkins, Carrington and fellow sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead are also in the running for tournament MVP.
Carrington has totaled 50 points on 18-of-28 shooting through two games, scoring 23 with seven rebounds Friday.
Whitehead isn't far behind with totals of 44 points, 17 boards and 14 assists. He's averaging 25.2 points over the last six games, and he's scored 41 in two matchups with Villanova.
Whitehead and Carrington are Brooklyn natives, and coach Kevin Willard is from nearby Huntington.
"It still hasn't hit me," Willard said of reaching the final. "To be playing in the Big East championship in the Mecca in New York City on Saturday night. I think these guys are starting to understand the greatness of this tournament.
"I've tried to talk to them a little bit about the tradition and the great programs, the great players."
Villanova is 5-0 in New York City this season and has won eight straight games at MSG.