Younger Wildcats set for Big East Tournament

Ed Benkin
March 12, 2019 - 3:27 pm
Mar 9, 2019; Newark, NJ, USA; Villanova Wildcats guard Phil Booth (5) shields the ball from Seton Hall Pirates guard Myles Cale (22) during the seance half at Prudential Center.

Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports


PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Villanova University has captured the Big East Tournament title for the past two seasons, but it will be a much younger group of Wildcats who will take the floor at Madison Square Garden this week.

Despite losing four starters to the NBA during the off-season, Villanova managed to finish on top of the Big East during the regular season. The Wildcats will await the winner of Wednesday night's contest between Butler and Providence and will play the winner at noon on Thursday. 

While seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall have carried much of the load for Villanova this season, several other less experienced Wildcats will be counted on for a greater role in the upcoming tournament.  

Coach Jay Wright knows his younger players will be tested playing under the Madison Square Garden spotlight.

"It's a totally different vibe," said Wright. "They've just got to get through it. We've got to get the freshmen through the first game. You're okay usually on the second night but that first night there is a really unique vibe."   

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The Wildcats will also be playing in a balanced field of Big East contenders. Villanova lost five conference games despite finishing on top this season, and the rest of the field spent much of the winter trading off wins and losses on a weekly basis. The Wildcats have had some easy games in the early rounds of the Big East Tourney in recent years, and Paschall realizes that won't be the case this week.

"There's no cakewalks in this conference," Paschall said. "Every team is good.  Every team is going to give you their best. I feel like whoever we play, it's going to be a battle. We've just got to continue to get better."

One of the younger players who could be a key to Villanova's success is Collin Gillespie. The sophomore sharp-shooter put up 22 points on Saturday in Villanova's loss to Seton Hall. Gillespie is hoping the Wildcats will have the advantage on Thursday afternoon playing against a tired team that will have less than 24 hours to prepare for Villanova.

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"It's always helpful when you have an extra day and the other team is playing," said Gillespie. "You get to prepare an extra day for them and rest up."

Whenever Villanova plays in New York, the Wildcats are well-represented by their fans. Nova Nation can be heard in full force each year at Madison Square Garden, and a host of students and alumni are expected to be in attendance again this week. Wright is more than happy to hear the support of the fans as well as participate in one of the most exciting tournaments in college basketball.

"I'm a Philly guy," Wright said. "I love Philly and I love the Palestra, but Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament is just the mecca. All the alumni are up there. It's been at that place for over 30 years. It's a great tradition. There's no vibe like playing there in the Big East Tournament."