TV: Fox (Gus Johnson, Jim Jackson, and Lisa Byington)
Radio: 610 Sports Radio (Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby)
NEW YORK, N.Y. – For the third time in as many seasons, the Villanova Wildcats will play for the BIG EAST Tournament championship. The top seeded Cats are set to face the No. 6 seed Creighton Bluejays (25-8 overall, 10-8 BIG EAST) for the right to claim the silver trophy and the conference’s automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
Both squads earned hard-fought victories in Friday night’s semifinals. Villanova got a game-winning put-back basket from BIG EAST Player of the Year Josh Hart to overcome the No. 5 seed Seton Hall Pirates 55-53 in the first game. Then, Creighton defeated Xavier 75-72 thanks to the efforts of its star, junior Marcus Foster.
That sets up tonight’s clash at Madison Square Garden. This is Creighton’s first appearance in the title game in its fourth season in the conference. Villanova, meanwhile, owns a pair of BIG EAST Tournament titles, having defeated Connecticut 94-78 in 1995 under coach Steve Lappas and in 2015 when they downed Xavier 69-52.
Villanova is just the fifth school in conference history to appear in three consecutive tournament finals. The others are Louisville, Pittsburgh, Connecticut and Syracuse.
In what will be his final BIG EAST Tournament appearance, Hart hopes to continue to have the same success in his previous nine games in the event. The 2015 Dave Gavitt Most Outstanding Player has averaged 17.4 points and 4.8 rebounds on the March stage at Madison Square Garden. He scored 19 points and collected 10 rebounds on a night when Villanova needed every one of them.
Hart was asked after Friday night’s game what is means to return to the title game for the third year in a row.
“It’s amazing,” stated the native of Silver Spring, Md. “You grow up watching the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden – all the battles. There is so much history in this league, this tournament. To be in three straight is amazing. I guarantee in 20 or 30 years I’m going to be a guy that brags about that a lot.
“But right now, we don’t think about that at all. We know this is a tough opponent and it will be another battle. We have to be focused.”
In their last meeting, the two teams were deadlocked at halftime at 33. Villanova pulled away in the second half for a 79-63 on Feb. 25 in the final regular season contest at the Pavilion before it closes for a renovation that will take it off line for the 2017-18 season.