February 03, 2015

Coach Jay Wright believes the Big East is the deepest it has been in three years, which makes Villanova's bid for a second 5-0 start in that span that much more impressive.

Behind a balanced attack and the conference's top defense, the sixth-ranked Wildcats look to remain in sole possession of first place with a 33rd consecutive home win Wednesday night against a Marquette team going after its second top-10 road win in eight days.

Villanova won its first five conference games en route to the Big East title in 2013-14, the first season after some schools left to form the American Athletic Conference. It now hopes to make a run to its third straight crown after winning its first four league games by an average of 14.7 points.

With 2014-15 Big East co-player of the year Ryan Arcidiacono struggling Sunday, Josh Hart stepped up with eight points during a late 10-2 run that keyed a 60-55 win at then-No. 18 Butler. The junior guard scored 22 with 11 rebounds in the Wildcats' sixth straight victory.

"It's definitely the best (the league has been)," Wright said. "I think we have eight teams right now playing good enough basketball to be NCAA Tournament teams. We've played Oklahoma, Virginia and some other top teams and the teams we're playing (in the Big East) are just as good."

The Wildcats will see another one in Marquette, which has recovered from an 0-2 league start with a 65-64 win at then-No. 8 Providence on Jan. 5 and an 81-75 home victory over St. John's on Saturday. The Golden Eagles are 2-0 against ranked opponents this season after losing their previous 15.

"We've got Marquette coming in and we know that's going to be tough," said Wright, whose team hasn't lost at home since January 2014. "In this league, it's just got to be on to the next game."

None of the Golden Eagles' three freshmen starters were around in the most recent meeting when Villanova (14-2, 4-0) dealt Marquette (12-4, 2-2) its worst defeat in Big East tournament history. Hart finished with 20 points in the Wildcats' 84-49 quarterfinal victory March 12.

Junior Luke Fischer had 18 points, freshman Henry Ellenson added 15 and 10 rebounds and classmate Haanif Cheatham scored 15 on Saturday against the Red Storm. Ellenson, who averages team highs of 15.9 points and 9.9 boards, has six double-doubles in his last seven games.

The up-and-coming Golden Eagles now hope to snap their six-game slide in this series.

"The reality is every game in the Big East is a battle. If you look on the floor, we've got a lot of young kids who are learning," coach Steve Wojciechowski said. "We have to remember where our guys are at. This is not some well-oiled machine where we have five seniors and you expect this amazing consistency. We've got guys who are learning on the job."

Wojciechowski's crew has shot a combined 48.5 percent in the last two wins after it made 38.3 percent in losses to Seton Hall and Georgetown. Marquette, though, has committed 39 turnovers in its last two and is going up against a Villanova team that leads the conference with 60.1 points allowed per game and a 37.6 defensive field-goal percentage.

The Golden Eagles lost all three meetings last season by an average of 21.3 points.

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