Weekend Homework: Villanova returns

February, 14, 2014
Feb 14
11:00
AM ET
It has been a few weeks since we've really luxuriated in the benzodiazepine warmth of "Creighton 96, Villanova 68," so, by way of reminder, let's jump back in the bath:

On Jan. 20, 2014, in Philadelphia, Creighton made a school-record 21 3-pointers on 35 attempts. Creighton "forward" Ethan Wragge made nine of them, including his first eight -- an onslaught that all but ended the game in the opening moments. Wragge finished with 27. Doug McDermott scored 23 points on 13 shots; Jahenns Manigat had 19 on seven. Villanova made a little run to keep the score within 13 points at halftime, but Creighton broke it open in the second half. This might be the greatest testament to how thoroughly the Wildcats were beaten: In the final six minutes, Creighton scored exactly six points, and still finished with 1.45 points per trip. I'd never seen anything like it.

Looking back, that game did more than give Creighton its best victory in program history (at least on the road in the past 30 years, anyway). It also helped cement McDermott's player of the year candidacy, just before a 39-point masterwork against St. John's. It also helped the Bluejays be taken more seriously, not just as a group of solid role players surrounding an offensive legend but as a really good offense itself. Meanwhile, it gave me something to dial up on my DVR whenever I'm having a bad day.

What did it do for -- or to -- Villanova? Not a whole lot, actually, in the best possible way.

Five days after being Bronx-cheered by their own stunned fans, the Wildcats outlasted (or, more specifically, all-out outscored) Marquette on the road in overtime. Then they held on at Georgetown. Then they handled business at Temple. Three straight road games, three straight chances to turn the Creighton disaster into an extended slight, three workmanlike wins instead. Villanova went on to pummel Xavier, Seton Hall and DePaul, and now here we are, two days before Sunday's trip to Creighton, and the Wildcats are 6-0 since.

How has Wright's team done it? The answer will surprise you only if you began watching Villanova on Jan. 20: with defense. Before the Creighton thing happened, the Wildcats were one of the nation's most statistically pristine defensive groups. Six games after allowing 1.45 points per possession on their own floor, Villanova's defense allows the fewest points per trip of any Big East team. That's pretty hard to do, when you give up that many points in any single game. It has a little bit to do with the quality of defense on offer in the Big East, but still: It's impressive.

It makes Sunday's trip to Omaha, Neb., a fascinating one. It's safe to bet that Creighton won't do what it did to the Wildcats again, even on its home floor; Villanova tossed off that outlier. Now let's see what we get when both teams come back down to earth.

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