Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Villanova Advances to Big East Tournament Final, Not Overlooking Creighton
By DENNIS CHAMBERSNEW YORK — The defending national champions now have the opportunity to enter the NCAA tournament as Big East champions.
Flip-flopping last season’s outcome with Seton Hall Friday night, Villanova advanced to the Big East’s 35th rendition of the Big East Tournament final where they will face Creighton, which beat Xavier 75-72. Villanova and Creighton will tip at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Entering their semifinal matchup with Seton Hall the Wildcats were the No. 2 ranked team in the country and a No. 1 seed in ESPN Joe Lunardi‘s projected NCAA tournament bracket. The Wildcats spent the season dominating their conference, and collecting hardware in the process as JoshHart was named Big East Player of the Year. With 30 wins on the season up to this point, Villanova has a real chance at repeating as national champions.
Although, the experienced core of Hart, KrisJenkins, and JalenBrunson that helped lead the Wildcats to a national title just a season ago knows better than to get ahead of themselves.
“We know we’re going to have a tough opponent tomorrow,” Hart said. “We’ve got to come focused and ready.”
However, Hart does relish in the fact that his team will enter their third straight Big East Tournament final on Saturday.
“It’s amazing,” Hart said. “You grow up watching the Big East Tournament in Madison Square Garden, all the battles. There’s so much history in this league, this tournament and to be in three straight it’s amazing.”
After Villanova was topped by Seton Hall in last season’s Big East final the Wildcats won six straight en route to their first national championship since 1985. The Pirates stunned the Wildcats a year ago, and it allowed Villanova to refocus on the ultimate goal.
This season, however, head coach JayWright wants his team to take care of business night in and night out – and he’s proud of this group’s ability to answer the call up to this point.
“Proud of these guys,” Wright said. “Very proud of them. That’s what good teams do. If you win 30 games, there’s five or six of those that it was not pretty. And it was against a good team. You can’t just beat the team you’re supposedto. You’ve got to beat some good team. And some of those games are not going to be pretty and you’ve got to find a way to gut it out. I’m proud.”
While entering the field of 68 as reigning champions will have a bullseye on Villanova’s back, Wright’s team has a core who’ve been there before.
“It’s the leadership,” Wright said. “It’s Josh (Hart) and Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. We have just incredible leaders.”
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