NEWARK, NJ - FEBRUARY 18: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats attempts a shot as Myles Powell #13 of the Seton Hall Pirates defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game at Prudential Center on February 18, 2017 in Newark, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

No. 2 Villanova scores decisive road win at Seton Hall

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Villanova was ruthlessly efficient on offense and used a balanced effort as the No. 2 Wildcats ran past Seton Hall, 92-70, on Saturday afternoon for a Big East road win. The win gives the Wildcats at least a share of the Big East regular season title, which they’ve won for four consecutive seasons.

Shooting 67 percent (33-for-49) from the field and 57 percent (12-for-21) from three-point range, the Wildcats had big days from Jalen Brunson (22 points), Kris Jenkins (22 points) Josh Hart (19 points) and Mikal Bridges (15 points).

Brunson was a perfect 7-for-7 from the floor while Bridges helped close the game with three late three-pointers as he was 8-for-10 from the field.

This was the type of offensive showing that makes you believe that Villanova (26-2, 13-2) should be a No. 1 seed come March and if their offense plays this well then they’re going to be nearly impossible to stop. Brunson is the type of efficient and intelligent lead guard who is happy to run clock with any kind of late lead while Hart and Jenkins aren’t afraid to take big shots late in the shot clock. When others like Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo also provide offense then Villanova has one of the most balanced groups in the nation.

With home games against Butler and Creighton and a road game at Georgetown, it won’t be easy for Villanova down the stretch in conference play but they should also feel pretty good about getting the Big East regular-season crown.

Seton Hall (16-10, 6-8) missed out on a valuable opportunity to score a win over top-five opponent in this one. The Pirates were led by Khadeen Carrington (22 points) while big man Angel Delgado (19 points, 12 rebounds) registered another double-double.

While Seton Hall would have loved a win over Villanova after picking off Creighton at home, they do get more chances to score wins over potential NCAA tournament teams. Kevin Willard’s team still hosts Xavier and ends the regular season on the road at Butler before the Big East Tournament.

Jay Wright wins No. 500 as No. 2 Villanova wins convincingly at No. 24 Xavier

of the Villanova Wildcats during the game against Xavier Muskateers at Cintas Center on February 11, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
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Villanova used a balanced effort as the No. 2 Wildcats beat No. 24 Xavier, 73-57, for a Big East road win on Saturday afternoon.

The win is head coach Jay Wright’s 500th as he saw the Big East leaders play a complete game.

Point guard Jalen Brunson had a solid game with 17 points, seven assists and only two turnovers as Villanova shot 51 percent (27-for-52) from the field and only committed six turnovers. Donte DiVincenzo also continued his strong recent stretch of play by finishing with 17 points.

Kris Jenkins (12 points), Josh Hart (11 points) and Mikal Bridges (10 points) also finished with double-figures for Villanova.

When Villanova’s offense is playing like this they are going to be one of the toughest teams in the country to stop. Brunson and DiVincenzo being the leaders in this one is particularly noteworthy since those are two of the players Villanova will rely on in March compared to last season. We know that Josh Hart is a player of the year candidate and Jenkins and Bridges are also steady but adding more perimeter firepower from those guys makes Villanova really tough to defend.

With DiVincenzo scoring like this there are not many weak links in the Villanova lineup.

Xavier (18-7, 8-4) looked lifeless by the end of this one as Trevon Bluiett (0 points) had an ankle injury and the team’s offense struggled. Rashid Gaston had a solid game with 23 points and 10 rebounds while J.P. Macura added 17 points and seven rebounds.

The Musketeers outrebounded Villanova 42-27 but the only shot 35 percent from the field and 28 percent from three-point range.

This loss snaps a four-game winning streak for Xavier as they begin a three-game road trip in which they need to get healthier and figure out the offensive issues.

Xavier scores important road win at No. 22 Creighton

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Xavier earned an important road win over No. 22 Creighton on Saturday as the Musketeers were able to stay in the Big East race with an 82-80 win.

Relying on a balanced scoring effort, Xavier (17-6, 7-3) had 16 points each from Tyrique Jones and Trevon Bluiett and 15 points each from Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura. Jones was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field while Bluiett knocked down two key three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Musketeers in control.

This win is Xavier’s first win against an RPI top-25 team, so it looks very good for the tournament profile. By also winning this one without Edmond Sumner, Xavier proved that they would still be a contender in the Big East as they’re riding a three-game winning streak.

Creighton (20-4, 7-4) dropped this one even though they had a nine-point lead at halftime. The Bluejays were led by Marcus Foster with 18 points while Khyri Thomas (15 points) and Cole Huff (11 points) both finished in double-figures.

It was notable that big man Justin Patton only finished with seven points as he was only 2-for-5 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. Patton also had five blocks on the defensive end. The Xavier defense certainly deserves credit for limiting Patton’s attempts and touches but Creighton also has to have a more proactive approach to getting Patton the ball.

The seven points broke a streak in which Patton scored double figures in 13 straight games as he’s shooting 71 percent from the field on the season. Creighton needs to be doing everything they can to work inside-out and let their shooters get looks after he’s drawing double teams.

From here, the Big East race gets a little intriguing thanks to Xavier’s soft remaining schedule. With two games against DePaul and Marquette and only home games with Villanova and Butler, the Musketeers can make a major play to stay with Villanova.

Crieghton’s schedule also isn’t too bad from here as they have road games at DePaul, Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall and home games with St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown. That’s a stretch where Creighton could conceivably go 5-2 and still be in good position entering the Big East tournament.

Hart scores 25, No. 1 Villanova beats Providence 78-68

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 21: The Villanova Wildcats men's basketball team greet the fans, as is the tradition at the end of the court, with "Vs" raised for Villanova, after the win over the Providence Friars at the Wells Fargo Center on January 21, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Villanova won 78-68. (Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
(Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Josh Hart saw an opportunity to drive with the ball and kept attacking the basket instead of shooting jumpers.

Hart scored 25 points, Kris Jenkins had 19 and No. 1 Villanova beat Providence 78-68 on Saturday.

The defending national champion Wildcats (19-1, 7-1 Big East) have won five straight since their only loss at Butler on Jan. 4 temporarily knocked them out of the No. 1 spot in The AP Top 25.

Hart tied a season-low with only two 3-pointers attempted and made both. He scored seven of his 10 baskets on layups. Villanova only tried 17 shots from 3-point range, making seven. The Wildcats entered the game averaging 25 attempts from beyond the arc.

“They do a great job of taking away 3s,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of Providence. “Our guys did a good job of reading the defense and not taking contested 3s. Josh is as relentless at attacking the basket as anybody I’ve ever seen.”

Hart finished 10 of 16 from the field.

“Just be aggressive is something Coach always says,” Hart said. “If they step up, make the right pass, If they don’t, you score.”

Rodney Bullock had 17 points and Jalen Lindsey added 14 for Providence (13-8, 3-5).

The Friars were coming off consecutive wins over Seton Hall and Georgetown but couldn’t compete with Villanova.

An 8-0 run to start the second half gave Villanova its biggest lead to that point, 43-31. Mikal Bridges got it started with a layup and jumper, Jenkins hit a jumper and Hart made another layup.

“Villanova took advantage of every mistake we made,” Friars coach Ed Cooley said. “The game was lost on the first five possessions of the second half.”

Jalen Brunson and Jenkins nailed consecutive 3s from almost the same spot to extend it to 60-43 midway through the second half and the Wildcats led by 20 at one point.

But Providence wouldn’t go away. Lindsey hit three straight 3s to cap a 13-2 run that got the Friars within 66-57 with 5:05 left.

Then Villanova scored the next three baskets, including a nifty, driving layup by Brunson to put it away.

“They have a great defensive team, they’re gritty and tough,” Cooley said.

Hart hit a 3-pointer to start the scoring and Villanova never trailed. The Friars tied it at 12 midway through the first half before Villanova went on a 10-0 run capped by Bridges’ 3-pointer.

BIG PICTURE

Providence: G Kyron Cartwright scored 12 points before he left the game with a stomach bug in the second half. … Isaiah Jackson also scored 12. … The Friars are 2-14 all-time against the top-ranked team. … They are 38-60 vs. Villanova. .. . The teams meet again on Feb. 1 at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

Villanova: Bridges had 15 points and Brunson added 13. … The team shot 51.7 percent (30 for 58). … The Wildcats played the second of four games at the home of the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers and NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, who host New Jersey on Saturday night. They are 15-2 at the Wells Fargo Center since the 2012-13 season. … Junior G Phil Booth, who led all scorers with 20 points in the national championship game last April, missed his 17th straight game because of inflammation in his left knee.

SPREADING THE LOVE

“Kris is rare,” Hart said of his teammate. “He’s a gifted scorer who gets more excited at other people’s success and that shows a lot about his character.”

UP NEXT

Providence will host St. John’s on Wednesday.

Villanova visits Marquette on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Jenkins, Brunson, lead No. 1 Villanova past Seton Hall 76-46

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VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Kris Jenkins scored 16 points and Jalen Brunson added 13 to lead No. 1 Villanova to a 76-46 win over Seton Hall on Monday.

The Wildcats (18-1, 6-1 Big East) looked every bit like a team that could win back-to-back national championships in their first game at No. 1 in The AP Top 25 poll following a one-week hiatus.

Villanova fell from the top spot to third in the poll following a Jan. 4 loss at Butler. But wins over Marquette and Xavier vaulted the Wildcats over the Kansas Jayhawks and back into the top spot.

Led by four 3s from Jenkins, the Wildcats set a school record 47 straight wins at the Pavilion. Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova has been nearly unbeatable at home for most of the last 10 years.

Seton Hall (12-6, 2-4) was just the latest to go down in front of the 177th straight sellout crowd. Villanova’s rare blemish on its national championship season was losing to the Pirates in the Big East Tournament title game.

Five Takeaways from No. 8 Creighton’s win over No. 12 Butler

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 11: Justin Patton #23 of the Creighton Bluejays challenges the shot of Kamar Baldwin #3 of the Butler Bulldogs during their game at CenturyLink Center on January 11, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Creighton had a strong overall performance on Wednesday night as the No. 8 Bluejays ran past No. 12 Butler for a 75-64 home Big East win.

Here are five takeaways from Creighton’s impressive win.

1. Creighton’s defense is getting better — Creighton’s top-10 offense has been praised repeatedly this season but its defense also appears to be improving.

The Bluejay defense has never been bad this season — they ranked a respectable 69th in KenPom defensive efficiency entering Wednesday — but this team appears to be more focused on that end of the floor from the start of the season.

Butler was held to 41 percent shooting on Wednesday night as they were 32 percent from three-point range and only shot seven free throws. Creighton defended without fouling and made perimeter looks very tough. The Bluejays also clearly had the right gameplan for Bulldogs star Kelan Martin as they held him scoreless in the first half and made things frustrating for him all night.

Creighton doesn’t need to be a defensive juggernaut to win its games, but they do need to show that they can get late stops in a tight game like they couldn’t during the Villanova loss. This game obviously didn’t give the Bluejays a test in that department but their defense was so good early that they didn’t need to get stops to win.

2. Butler needs Kelan Martin to show up in Big East play — Junior forward Kelan Martin is Butler’s leading scorer and best player. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging north of 17 points per game this season. But he’s had a slow start in Big East play.

Wednesday saw more of the same. Martin missed his first eight shots and was held scoreless in the first half as the Bulldogs fell behind big and never recovered. To start the second half, Martin found himself on the bench as he finally started to make some shots once he re-entered the game.

So far in five Big East games, Martin is only shooting 30 percent (20-for-66) from the field. At 6-for-27 from three-point range during that same span, Martin has also struggled to find his perimeter shooting stroke during conference play. Clearly, Martin needs to make some adjustments because the Big East seems to be more familiar with his game and is having an easier time of slowing him down.

Much like Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes, Martin could stand to tone down the number of perimeter looks he is taking at the moment. Martin has always hovered around 37 percent from three, and that’s a respectable number, but he’s now attempting over six attempts a game from three even though he’s been off the last five games.

3. With Justin Patton rolling, Creighton’s offense becomes a juggernaut — Watching Creighton has been fun for a number of reasons this season but the continued development of freshman center Justin Patton continues to be thrilling to witness. The 7-footer has really stepped up his overall game lately as he’s been more productive while getting the lion’s share of the minutes at center.

When Creighton’s guards like Mo Watson and Marcus Foster can get to the rim, Patton becomes a valuable dump-off option. With the amount of shooting that Creighton has on the roster it also gives Patton plenty of room to operate on the interior. If Cole Huff is knocking down shots, it makes the Bluejays such a matchup nightmare on the offensive end because they have so many unique weapons and ways to score.

Patton only finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting but that all came in the first half as Butler’s bigs had no answer for him. Since Creighton’s guards could get in the paint whenever they wanted, Patton’s post touches weren’t as necessary in this one, but Patton’s confidence is growing immensely as the season goes on.

4. Butler can have struggles containing dribble penetration against good guards — One of Butler’s major issues during Wednesday night’s loss was the ability to slow down guards like Watson, Foster and Khyri Thomas from doing what they wanted off the bounce.

In the first half, the Bluejays built their commanding lead by attacking the rack and sharing the scoring balance and the second half saw a strong takeover performance from Watson. The senior was simply unguardable for Creighton in the second frame as he was able to touch the paint whenever he wanted on his way to 21 points and seven assists.

Butler has some strong defensive players and strong defensive principles, but senior Tyler Lewis isn’t a good on-the-ball defender and his size makes him susceptible to being beat. It’s going to be interesting to see how Butler adjusts its perimeter defense after this game to prepare for elite guards. The good news is that Butler isn’t going to have to face many top-10 offenses with killer backcourts, but it was still concerning to see how much they were getting beat.

5. Nobody else is going to beat Creighton at home — Sorry, Big East. No disrespect, Xavier. But I’d be stunned if Creighton lost another home game this season.

Creighton’s dismantling of Butler was an impressive effort on both ends of the floor as the Bluejays made a good, disciplined team look average for most of the game. With Villanova already having won at Creighton this season, I don’t see another Big East team going into CenturyLink Center and picking up a win.

The Bluejays have always been a tough out at home over the years as it is, but with how talented this team is and how they’re playing right now, it would take a huge effort to earn a win there.