Marquette and Villanova have been in a Big East tier of their own ever since the start of conference play. The Golden Eagles have earned the upper hand thanks to the Wildcats' recent skid, but Wednesday night's game still has huge league title implications.
The two will square off on FS1 at 9 p.m. ET in Philadelphia. Marquette won the first matchup by a score of 66-65 behind Markus Howard's 38 points.
Here are three factors that will determine the winner of tonight's game.
Villanova has no great option to guard Howard
Howard torched Villanova to the tune of 38 points on 24 shots in the first meeting, and there aren't many college defenders equipped to handle him. But that's especially true of Villanova's guards.
Collin Gillespie and Phil Booth form a really good offensive backcourt. But they leave some to be desired defensively. Booth is fine in a team construct, but he's not a lockdown guy. And he's better than Gillespie on that end. Villanova had no answer for Howard's herky-jerky drives and pull-up 3s in the first game.
It will be interesting to see what Jay Wright does on Wednesday. Will he blitz Howard pick-and-rolls, forcing him to give the ball up? It's tempting, but the Wildcats would be playing 3-on-4 in that scenario, and the Golden Eagles have other guys capable of hurting you. Perhaps Wright will give Joe Cremo more minutes, or put some length on Howard in Saddiq Bey. But that would leave Gillespie and Booth checking bigger wings, which is also not ideal.
Wright is obviously one of the top coaches in America. It will be fascinating to see what he draws up for tonight.
Can the Wildcats get Theo John in foul trouble?
It's no secret that John is Marquette's best defensive player, but he fouls a lot. He fouled out in 16 minutes against Villanova the first time around. Opponents score 91.4 points per 100 possessions when John is in the game, per Sports Reference. No other Marquette starter is below 97. The Golden Eagles are legitimately good defensively when he plays, and below average when he doesn't.
Villanova bombs a ton of 3s, as we'll get to soon. But at their best, the Wildcats are a modern offensive machine; the threat of the 3 opens up driving lanes for guys like Booth and Eric Paschall. John's presence is crucial because he can steer opponents away from the hoop. The Wildcats are very beatable on nights they fall in love with the 3 but aren't hitting. John is also a good ball-screen defender.
Villanova would be wise to challenge him early and often like it did in the first game. We'll see if John can still be his destructive self in the paint without hacking.
The Golden Eagles were able to overcome that at home, but it might not be so fortunate on the road.
It's always about the 3 ball for Villanova
Almost 54 percent of Villanova's shot attempts come from 3-point range. That's the second-highest rate in the country, and it explains why the Wildcats are so streaky.
Villanova is a mediocre shooting team in terms of accuracy — it makes 35.3 percent of its triples, which ranks 129th. But that's still a recipe for a really good offense. Taking a bunch of them is half the battle; the Wildcats know the math and use it to their advantage.
But it's a boom-or-bust way to play. Villanova is shooting less than 30 percent from distance in its recent three-game losing streak, and it's the biggest reason why the Wildcats are struggling in general. Making outside shots equals more wins. Duh. But it's especially true of Villanova considering how reliant it is on the 3 ball.
Part of this is a matter of creating quality looks. That's on guys like Gillespie, Booth and Paschall to break down a defense and make the right pass. But at the end of the day, the Wildcats just have to knock down the shots. Whether they win or lose will have a lot to do with their 3-point percentage.
Villanova is in serious danger of missing out on its first Big East regular season title since the league realigned. It's cold right now, but the Wildcats are at home and their backs are against the wall. They are looking to avenge a loss and have run this league for years.
Something tells me the shots fall tonight, and while Howard will have a good game, he won't explode for 38 points again.
Score: Villanova 71, Marquette 69