January 09, 2015

Having locked up the Big East's No. 1 seed, Villanova can now focus on earning one for the NCAA Tournament.

An outright regular-season conference championship is also within reach for the third-ranked Wildcats entering Tuesday night's home game with DePaul.

Though knocked out of the No. 1 spot in the national polls with Wednesday's 90-83 loss at No. 5 Xavier, Villanova (25-4, 14-2) remains atop the Big East after bouncing back with Saturday's 89-79 win at Marquette. The Wildcats clinched at least a share of the league title when the Musketeers lost at Seton Hall on Sunday.

The result guaranteed Villanova the top seed for next week's Big East tournament in New York City by virtue of season sweeps of Seton Hall and Creighton, either of which will finish third in the standings.

Despite that secure position, the Wildcats still have plenty at stake for both Tuesday and Saturday's regular-season finale against Georgetown, as a slip-up in either would surely impact their chances for a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

Villanova also has a few wrinkles to iron out in those final tournament preps after its usually stifling defense showed some holes during last week's road trip. After Xavier shot 50 percent and dominated the boards in its 90-83 win, Marquette went 51.9 percent from the field and induced 17 turnovers, the Wildcats' second-highest total this season.

"Every time they turned us over they scored. That was a big part of the game," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.

Villanova offset those rare ball-control issues by hitting 57.7 percent of its shots and regaining its own ability to force opponents into mistakes. After recording 10 takeaways or less in each of their previous three games, the Wildcats - the Big East's leader in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense - produced 27 points off 17 Marquette giveaways.

Returns to form by Josh Hart and Daniel Ochefu also helped. Hart, Villanova's leading scorer at 15.1 per game, had 19 on 7-of-8 shooting after being held to 10 on a 4-of-13 rate against Xavier. Ochefu compiled 18 points and 12 rebounds after scoring 14 combined while saddled with foul trouble in the previous two games.

"Daniel was rolling," Wright said. "We're just getting him back going again. We need to use him. He's a force."

The Wildcats figure to have an easier time slowing down DePaul (9-19, 3-13), averaging a conference-low 66.4 points per game in Big East play and last in the league in turnover margin at minus-2.9 per game. Villanova continued its dominance of the series with an 86-59 road win Feb. 9, scoring 19 points off 19 turnovers and limiting the Blue Demons to 40.6 percent inside the arc.

Villanova has won 11 straight meetings - including seven straight by 13 or more points - since an 84-76 road loss Jan. 3, 2008.

DePaul has allowed 81.5 points per game during a 1-5 stretch and struggled again defensively in Saturday's 87-66 loss at Providence.

Eli Cain has been a bright spot, however. The freshman guard, who leads the Big East in 3-point percentage (43.8), had 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting against Providence and is averaging 17.8 points over his last four games.

Villanova's Kris Jenkins is averaging 20.3 points and gone 10 of 21 from 3 over a three-game stretch.

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