The top-seeded Villanova Wildcats notched a three-peat by beating the Seton Hall Pirates 74-72 for the Big East tournament championship on Saturday evening at Madison Square Garden.
The Wildcats also won the conference regular-season title for the fifth time in six seasons under head coach Jay Wright.
On Saturday, both offenses started poorly as Villanova led 28-26 at halftime on just 37 percent shooting from the field. The second half saw both teams get into more of an offensive rhythm. As soon as it felt like one team was in control, the other team would make a run.
That led to a frantic pace of play and players on both sides getting chippy. Down the stretch, just about every basket on one end of the court was answered at the other. Ultimately, Seton Hall couldn't capitalize when it counted most.
Senior forward Eric Paschall missed one of his two free throws with 14 seconds left, leaving Villanova's lead at 74-72, and that's how the game would end despite Seton Hall having two chances to tie it up or take the lead.
Seton Hall junior guard Myles Powell led all scorers with 25 points. Paschall led the way for the Wildcats with 17 points, while both senior guard Phil Booth and freshman forward Saddiq Bey had 16 points. Booth scored 15 of his 16 points in the second half.
Despite Inconsistencies, Villanova Can't Be Overlooked in March
Villanova struggled immensely to close this one out—mirroring a shaky overtime win over Xavier in the semifinals on Friday. Seton Hall had two chances to win the game in the final five seconds of regulation, and if Powell's game-winning three-point attempt had rimmed in instead of out, this would likely be an entirely different narrative.
The way Villanova's win over Seton Hall unfolded showed how the Wildcats can turn a Big East tournament three-peat into their third national championship in four seasons. At the same time, it showcased their season-long inconsistencies down the stretch.
Beyond the box score, Booth was the catalyst for Villanova as he has been all season. Sunday's final marked Booth's 146th game for Villanova, which tied now-Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart (2013-17) for the school record.
Paschall kept the Wildcats' heads above water in the first half, and once Booth found his footing in the second half, their one-two punch proved why this particular Wright squad can't be ignored in the NCAA tournament.
After winning the 2018 NCAA tournament, Villanova lost Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to the NBA.
"Among the top four players of each champion since 2006, when the one-and-done began, Villanova's departed quartet leave the greatest offensive hole for a reigning champion," Daniel Levitt of FiveThirtyEight pointed out in November.
Despite the departures, this group has faced lofty expectations all season and hasn't always lived up to them.
Last season, per KenPom.com, Villanova ranked first in adjusted offensive efficiency. That ranking has dropped to 16th this season. It's the first time Wright's Wildcats have been outside of the top five in the category since 2014.
Booth and Paschall's senior presence gives Villanova a chance to cut down the nets anyway. However, the fact that Booth and Paschall alone shoulder so much of Villanova's title potential—especially when compared to teams such as Florida State who have a cohesive group of five seniors—gives the Wildcats just as much of a chance to bust.
Scrolling through Villanova's regular-season schedule is like strolling through a fun house of mirrors.
In November, Villanova lost to Michigan but then beat Florida State 11 days later. In December, Nova lost to both Penn and Kansas. You can't use in-conference juggernaut Marquette as a gauge because Villanova split its season series with them.
Seton Hall beat the Wildcats a week ago and could have again beaten them on Saturday, but the stability of Booth and Paschall combined with sparks from Bey and sophomore forward Jermaine Samuels proved the difference—emphasis on combined.
Two players alone will not win any team an NCAA title, but the Wildcats cannot win an NCAA title without their top two players shining. If a team finds a way to take them both away, that's when this season's Villanova team will officially and finally be extinguished.
Both teams will await their NCAA tournament seeding on Selection Sunday, beginning at 6 p.m. EST. The show will be nationally television on CBS and streamed on March Madness Live.
Seton Hall will enter the tournament at 20-13, while 25th-ranked Villanova owns a 25-9 record.