Villanova has been playing basketball since way before Rollie Massimino’s guys pulled off their magical national-title ride.
In all that time, only twice before this season have the Wildcats won 22 of their first 24 games. Both were in the last decade.
The 2005-06 team would go on to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and make it to the Elite Eight before being eliminated by eventual champion Florida. Four seasons later, coming off their first Final Four appearance since the epic 1985 run, the Wildcats would be upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as a second seed.
Each of those teams was ranked fifth in the preseason. This season, the Wildcats started 33rd.
But last night at the AllState Arena in Rosemont, Ill., the sixth-ranked ‘Nova matched those predecessors by getting to 22-2 themselves (10-1 Big East) with a pretty much as-anticipated, 87-62 win over DePaul (10-15, 2-10).
It sets up a Sunday rematch at No. 18 Creighton (19-4, 9-2), which of course was the last team to beat the Wildcats. You might recall the 28-point, three-pointathon in South Philly on Jan. 20. Villanova, which is 6-0 since then, probably does.
If the Wildcats win in Omaha, it would leave them in prime position to be the top seed in the conference tournament for the first time since 1996-97. This will mark the first time they’ll be playing the Bluejays — and forward Doug McDermott, the country’s second-leading scorer — in Nebraska. The first three meetings were at the Palestra in the early 1950s. Creighton, which tonight is at Butler (12-12, 2-10), owns a 15-game home winning streak.
The Wildcats led 48-31 at the half. It was a one-point game after 5 minutes, before they went on a 19-4 spurt. No DePaul player other than Brandon Young scored in the final 12 minutes before intermission. He had a dozen, which was still 10 fewer than the visitors. And that can be a problem.
In their last game, the Wildcats hit a season-low five treys against Seton Hall. This time they had a season-high 15, on 26 attempts. That’s 57.7 percent, and the most they’ve made in a Big East game in eight seasons. Ryan Arcidiacono, who has struggled from the arc at times this season, went 4-for-4. Darrun Hilliard was 5-for-7, freshman Kris Jenkins — who coach Jay Wright says is their best shooter — 3-for-4 off the bench. The Wildcats also went 18-for-20 from the foul line.
Hilliard finished with 22 points. James Bell, the reigning Big East and Big 5 Player of the Week, had his team-best average of 16. Arcidiacono (six assists) and JayVaughn Pinkston scored 14, on combined 10-for-13 shooting. Jenkins contributed 11, one off his career high. Pinkston had 11 rebounds and Bell eight, to go with four assists and two blocks.
Young had a season-high 27 for DePaul.
This was the start of what will be the Wildcats’ second three-game road swing in just over 3 weeks. DePaul, which dropped its seventh straight, had lost by 26 at the Pavilion on Jan. 18. The Blue Demons were playing their fifth straight game without top scorer Cleveland Melvin, who no longer is enrolled. Villanova, which improved to 5-1 at AllState, has taken the last eight meetings.
The swing will conclude at Providence (16-9, 6-6) on Tuesday.
After that, they’ll have four of their last five at home, never a bad thing. And it’s always been, after all, much more about where you end up than how you began.