The first No. 1 ranking in Villanova history is about to go away. The one team that could benefit from the Wildcats still having it is Marquette.
Any extra notoriety for a potential upset could help a Golden Eagles team needing a statement-making victory to get on the NCAA Tournament bubble. They played Villanova tough earlier this season in Philadelphia, and they're at home for Saturday's rematch with a chance to hand the Wildcats back-to-back losses for the first time in nearly three years.
This is the final road game for Villanova (24-4, 13-2 Big East) after an ugly one Wednesday. Coach Jay Wright's team never led in the second half and trailed by as many as 15 in a 90-83 defeat to fifth-ranked Xavier.
"We just didn't defend well," said Wright, whose Wildcats still have the Big East's best defense. They allow 62.5 points per game and 38.9 percent from the field despite letting the Musketeers shoot 50.0 percent and become the first opponent to reach 90 points since February 2014.
Villanova is 11-0 following a loss since dropping its final two games of the 2012-13 season.
The latest defeat likely means the Wildcats' run at No. 1 will end after three weeks. Now they're merely trying to hold off Xavier for the Big East regular-season championship with the lead down to a half-game.
A conference tournament title may be the only way for Marquette (18-10, 7-8) to make the NCAA Tournament. Then again, a victory Saturday following back-to-back road wins over DePaul and Creighton could get the Golden Eagles into the conversation.
"I see this as a big game for our team because we're making a last-second push here and we're trying to do something special," freshman Henry Ellenson said.
Ellenson had his conference-best 16th double-double with 22 points and 10 rebounds in Wednesday's 66-61 win over the Bluejays.
One of his least productive games came at Villanova on Jan. 13 with 12 points and eight boards in an 83-68 defeat. However, Marquette overcame a 16-point deficit to take the lead at halftime and was within one with 12 1/2 minutes remaining.
"We didn't go in scared," guard Haanif Cheatham said. " ... And I think that's gonna happen on Saturday, too. Guys are gonna go in with tons of confidence."
Plus, the Golden Eagles were missing JaJuan Johnson in the first meeting due to a neck injury. He's scored in double figures in six of the past eight games.
"I think we learned a lot from that game, and I think we've gotten a lot better," Ellenson said. "And having J.J. back will be a difference. I'm feeling real good about it."
Johnson had a game-high 20 points when Villanova visited last season, though Marquette lost 87-76.
Kris Jenkins led the Wildcats with 20 points against Marquette last month and has reached that mark in back-to-back games. Ryan Arcidiacono has at least eight assists in three straight but has shot 7 for 27.
Villanova has won the past seven meetings, but Wright knows the Golden Eagles have matured. Five of their top seven scorers are underclassmen.
"We had a tough time the first game with Marquette and we know this is a good young team that keeps getting better," he told Villanova's official website.
Counterpart Steve Wojciechowski called this the first meaningful late-season game for the Golden Eagles since he took over in 2014.
"This is a big-time game to be a part of," Wojciechowski said. "These are games you should attack and leave it all out on the basketball court."