Marquette Golden Eagles vs. Villanova Wildcats Pick & Prediction MARCH 14th 2024

NEW YORK — No. 10 Marquette won’t have Tyler Kolek when it faces Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament on Thursday.

Last season’s Big East Player of the Year hasn’t played since Feb. 28 due to an oblique injury. After Kolek missed the final three games of the regular season, Marquette coach Shaka Smart said Wednesday that Kolek would sit out at least the first game of the conference tournament.

“The plan is absolutely for him to play next week (in the NCAA Tournament),” Smart said Wednesday.

The third-seeded Golden Eagles (23-8) enter this game against the sixth-seeded Wildcats (18-14) without much room to improve their NCAA Tournament seed. They figure to be a No. 2 or 3 seed when their name is called on Selection Sunday, so resting Kolek is a tradeoff for the long term.

Kolek averaged career highs of 15.0 points and 7.6 assists per game in 28 games this season. He went for 21 points and 11 assists when Marquette beat Villanova 87-74 at home on Jan. 15, and followed that with 32 points and nine assists in the Golden Eagles’ 85-80 road win over Villanova on Jan. 30.

Marquette is no one-man show.

Oso Ighodaro (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rebounds per game) is an NBA prospect, and Kam Jones has been on fire. The team leader at 16.7 ppg, Jones had three 30-point performances over the last six games of the regular season.

Jones dropped 30 on 12-for-17 shooting plus nine assists in Marquette’s regular-season finale, a back-and-forth, 86-80 win over Xavier. Ighodaro went 11-for-15 for 24 points.

“Sometimes you can be a little bit like the little engine that could, and particularly when you have the reigning Big East Player of the Year on the bench in street clothes,” Smart said postgame. “I thought that our guys did a really good job helping each other just continue to believe and feel like we could do it.”

Marquette won the Big East tournament title last year, beating eventual national champion UConn in the semifinals and Xavier in the final.

Villanova squarely is on the NCAA Tournament bubble due to its unusual mix of great wins — North Carolina on a neutral floor, Creighton on the road — and bad losses to Philadelphia Big 5 rivals Penn, Saint Joseph’s and Drexel.

So, Wednesday night’s nailbiter against DePaul probably didn’t help its case.

DePaul went 0-20 in the Big East during the regular season, yet the Wildcats trailed the Blue Demons for 10:39 of their first-round contest and needed a late 3-pointer by Justin Moore to escape with a 58-57 win.

Eric Dixon finished with 21 points and nine rebounds, raising his team-high season average to 16.4 points per game.

Second-year coach Kyle Neptune took a half-glass-full view of the near-upset.

“We got another game,” Neptune said. “We got another opportunity to play, like I said, for the people in our locker room. We’ve had — it’s now towards the end of the season. We feel like we got a lot of basketball left. We feel like we can get a lot better from this game.

“We look at it like, all right, who else can go and miss the shots we did and still get stops and hold a team at 57 points and find a way to win in the end? And that’s how we’re going to look at it.”

–Adam Zielonka, Field Level Media

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