March 02, 2015

It's just one game, but Villanova's presumed decline in the Big East appears to be well off-base.

After dismantling one of their expected chief competitors in their league opener, the defending conference champion Wildcats face one of the Big East's potential sleepers in Saturday night's visit to Creighton.

A unanimous choice to earn a third straight Big East regular-season title, the No. 16 Wildcats entered league play behind cohorts Xavier, Butler and Providence in the national rankings after a relatively unimpressive non-conference performance. They quickly changed opinions with Thursday's 95-64 rout of sixth-ranked and previously unbeaten Xavier, serving notice that they're still the conference's team to beat.

Villanova (11-2, 1-0 Big East) overwhelmed the Musketeers, shooting a season-high 63.2 percent and scoring 26 points off 19 turnovers in its third straight win following a Dec. 19 defeat at No. 5 Virginia.

Among the nation's top outside shooting teams during last season's 33-3 campaign, the Wildcats have regained their touch after struggling from the perimeter early on. They've reached double figures in 3-pointers in four of the last five games and made 13 of 25 against Xavier.

"We've been saying all along that we're a good 3-point shooting team," coach Jay Wright said. "We have just taken some bad shots but we took good ones (Thursday)."

Reigning Big East co-Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono matched a career high with seven 3s on 14 attempts while amassing 27 points and eight assists.

Creighton (10-4, 1-0) has displayed some marksmanship as well in exceeding preseason expectations. Picked ninth in the 10-team league, the Bluejays rank among the Division I leaders in scoring (86.9 points per game) and shooting (50.3 percent).

They've been particularly accurate at home, eclipsing 50 percent in all eight games at CenturyLink Center, where they're 7-1 and averaging 93.8 points.

"Creighton is really good, and that's as tough a place to play in the country," Wright said. "We've got a lot of them in the Big East, but that's very tough."

The Bluejays, 4-14 in the Big East and 14-19 overall last season, have built their turnaround on senior center Geoffrey Groselle's improvement and the additions of transfers Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston University) and Cole Huff (Nevada) and freshman Khryi Thomas.

After playing sparingly his first three years, Groselle (12.9 ppg) leads the nation in field goal percentage (75.0) and has been nearly flawless of late. The 7-footer is 25 of 27 over a three-game stretch and finished 9 of 10 for 22 points in Thursday's 80-70 league win at St. John's.

"I'm just playing my game and shooting shots I know I can make," he said. "My teammates are doing a great job of getting me those shots that they know I can make. Hopefully we can keep this streak going."

Creighton has lost nine straight against Top 25 opponents, with seven coming in conference play. Its only two wins over Big East ranked teams came against Villanova during its league debut in 2013-14.

The Wildcats won both meetings last season but had to work hard for a 76-72 decision in Omaha on March 3. Arcidiacono had 23 points and completed a three-point play with 49 seconds left for a 69-67 lead.

Creighton has won three straight since an 87-74 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma on Dec. 19. The Sooners handed Villanova a 78-55 defeat in Hawaii on Dec. 7.

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