VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Two programs located on opposite coasts of the United States yet share the distinction of having appeared in an NCAA championship game the last two seasons, Gonzaga and Villanova, will meet for the first time on Tuesday night as part of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden. The contest is the first of a doubleheader which also features a pair of former BIG EAST schools, Syracuse and Connecticut, in the nightcap.
The No. 4/4 Wildcats (8-0 overall, 0-0 BIG EAST) earned the 2016 NCAA title while the No. 12/13 Bulldogs (7-1 overall, 0-0 West Coast Conference) reached the 2017 NCAA championship game, where they fell to North Carolina.
Both teams earned convincing victories in their last outing. Gonzaga downed Creighton 91-74 in Spokane on Friday night while the `Cats used a 26-2 burst to win their first official road game of the campaign, 94-53 at Saint Joseph's on Saturday at Hagan Arena.
ESPN will carry Tuesday night's clash with Dan Shulman, Jay Bilas and Holly Rowe providing the coverage. The Villanova radio feed will air via flagship station 610 Sports Radio (Ryan Fannon and Whitey Rigsby).
"I think it's going to be a great game," stated Villanova Wildcats head coach Jay Wright. "At every position they are operating at a high level. They have depth and are probably as efficient an offensive team as we have played. It's definitely going to be the best team we have played this year.
"It will be a great challenge for us. We're psyched."
Redshirt juniors Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth each played a pivotal role in Saturday's Big Five win. Bridges scored 18 points to go with nine rebounds while Booth contributed 17 points, a career-best eight boards and six assists. Both said they watched some of the Gonzaga win over fellow BIG EAST member Creighton on Friday night.
"I've seen a little bit of Gonzaga," Booth said after the win Saturday. "They can really score the ball and move it around. They're going to be a tough team to play against. They're disciplined and well-coached."
Added Bridges: "They're a tough team. I saw how good their defense was against Creighton with Marcus Forster and Kyhri Thomas. They've got length out there and their guards and forwards all play well together. Like Phil said, they're really well-coached and it seems like they are a pretty mature team that has been playing with each other for a while."
On Monday, redshirt freshman forward Omari Spellman was named BIG EAST Freshman of the Week for the second time in the young season. The product of Cleveland, Ohio averaged 15.0 points, 9.0 rebounds and 3.5 blocked shots per outing in the pair of convincing Big Five victories last week over Penn and Saint Joseph's.
The major polls were also released Monday, with Villanova continuing to hold down the No. 4 slot nationally. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs climbed to No. 12 in the Associated Pres poll while it is up to No. 13in the USA Today Coaches poll.
Following Tuesday night's marquee matchup, the Wildcats will be idle until Sunday, when they host their only home game of December, against La Salle. Tip-off for this Big Five tussle with the Explorers is set for 1 p.m. (FS1 and 610 Sports Radio).
The 2017-18 Villanova Basketball season is presented by KeyBank.
Notes: Villanova will host a Watch Party for Tuesday night's game at Xfinity Live outside the Wells Fargo Center. The event will include an opportunity for attendees to get their picture taken with the 2016 NCAA national championship trophy.