Georgetown-Villanova Preview

Villanova won the Big East regular-season title and is aiming for a second straight conference tournament crown for the first time.

The Wildcats' success, however, will be gauged on a bigger stage.

Third-ranked Villanova will try to beat Georgetown for the second time in under a week Thursday as it tries to solidify its chances at a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Wildcats (27-4) went 16-2 in conference play to win a third straight regular-season title after they had little trouble taking last year's conference tournament, winning three games at Madison Square Garden by an average of 18 points.

There were few doubts that Villanova was intent on adding to its championship haul Saturday, building a 21-point lead while coasting to an 84-71 win over Georgetown.

"Anything that we would do in the Big East that is historic is important to us," coach Jay Wright told the team's official website.

What appears more important is finding success in the NCAA Tournament after failing to advance beyond the third round since 2009. The Wildcats were eliminated three times over that span as a No. 1 or 2 seed, including last year by eighth-seeded N.C. State.

Villanova should at least be a second seed this time, and Wright is well aware that doesn't guarantee a trip to the Final Four.

"No, it's not easy to envision," he said. "We have to win games. We have to win a lot of games."

Beating the Hoyas (15-17) hasn't been much of a problem with victories in six of the last seven matchups, including both this season.

Josh Hart had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists against them Saturday, while Kris Jenkins added 17 points and eight boards.

Jenkins has been outstanding over the last five games, averaging 21.8 points on 54.7 percent shooting while hitting 21 of 41 from 3-point range. He was scoring 10.9 points per game through the first 26 contests.

Coach John Thompson III was relieved the Hoyas snapped a six-game slide by beating DePaul 70-53 in the opening round Wednesday. He was also grateful center Bradley Hayes returned with 10 points and seven rebounds after missing six games with a broken hand.

"Oh, man, it feels a lot better than losing," he said. "You go through the stretch that we've been through. It's hell. It's really, really hard. You go through a stretch where we're not winning, but they fought. Every single game we fought. I keep saying, 'OK, it's going to turn around, it's going to turn around, it's going to turn around.'

"Having the big fella back, being here in this city, being here in this building, this tournament, it feels good. It feels good."

D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera certainly helped Thompson's mood with 20 points while making 7 of 11 from the field and 4 of 7 from long range - a big improvement after he missed 10 of 11 shots and all seven 3-point attempts while scoring seven points against Villanova.

L.J. Peak had a career-high 31 points off the bench in that matchup, but he only had 10 against the Blue Demons.

Georgetown will likely need to win this tournament in order to qualify for the NCAAs, but Thompson is expecting Villanova to change its recent history.

"I think they're poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament," he said.

This is the first tournament meeting between Villanova and Georgetown since the Hoyas won a quarterfinal matchup in 2008.

The winner will meet either fourth-seeded Providence of fifth-seeded Butler in Friday's semifinals.

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