The battle for supremacy in the Big East Conference moves to the Wells Fargo Center this weekend as Seton Hall visits Villanova for the first time this season.
Sitting at 9-1 in conference play after a win over Georgetown, Seton Hall is tasked with maintaining its place atop the Big East standings against a Villanova squad that enters the weekend two games behind the Pirates following a heartbreaking buzzer-beating loss against Butler on Wednesday. Saturday’s winner not only places itself in prime position to win the Big East regular season title, but adds another high-profile win to its resume.
Things are not the same since the last regular season matchup between the two teams last March. The Wildcats lost a number of players to graduation and the NBA, including Eric Pachall, who is making an impact for the Golden State Warriors now, and Phil Booth, who routinely gave Seton Hall and all of the Big East fits with his tenacious play. The Pirates lost Michael Nzei, but added Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu. Romaro Gill’s development has also taken Seton Hall’s frontcourt to a new level. Compared to the best lineup put forth by the Pirates last year, this year’s team is largely different alone due to the paint presences in place.
This season, Villanova is led by junior point guard Collin Gillespie, who has emerged as one of the Big East’s elite guards. With Gillespie running the offense, the Wildcats have averaged 74 points per game and have shot 44% from the field. Saddiq Bey has made a major jump from freshman to sophomore year, averaging 15 points and 5.2 points per game. He is also the Wildcats’ most dangerous offensive threat from the perimeter, shooting 45% from three. Star freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is nearly averaging a double-double with 11 points and 9.7 rebounds per game, while classmate has bolstered Villanova’s backcourt with 11.1 points per game.
Regardless of who is producing for Villanova, Gill and the Pirates will have to be calm and determined in order to take home a win on the road at Villanova, something they have not done since the 1992-93 season.
That said, Saturday’s game is not life or death for either team. The Pirates and Wildcats will meet again in a month at the Prudential Center. There is also a chance that their paths will cross again in the Big East Tournament. Still, this game serves as a barometer for two programs in unique places heading into the meat of their season.
Seton Hall is the grizzled, experienced team looking to make a splash in the country led by star Myles Powell. Villanova is the young, poised team led by an all-time great coach and exceeding expectations – a difficult measure for a program of that pedigree. The upcoming game is a clash of two worlds in a situation that is not usual for either group, and it will be a measuring stick for both moving ahead for when the true tests come.
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.