UConn vs. Villanova Prediction: Can the Wildcats Get Back Their Dominance in This Rivalry?

College basketball expert Mike Spector offers his best bet for tonight's Big East Tournament semifinal matchup between the Connecticut Huskies and Villanova Wildcats, tipping at 9:00 PM ET and airing on FS1.
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UConn vs. Villanova Prediction: Can the Wildcats Get Back Their Dominance in This Rivalry?

The Big East is back, folks. The Connecticut Huskies' return to the conference after a brief stint in the AAC has reinvigorated the league, and if you watched any of yesterday's Big East Tournament action, Madison Square Garden was buzzing. With tonight's matchup between UConn and Villanova headlining the two semifinals, it has become a hot ticket, with the cheapest seats going for over $200 on the secondary market.

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In late February, UConn's last win over Villanova stopped a five-game losing streak in the series. Securing a second consecutive win over the Wildcats tonight would clinch them a spot in the conference championship. Will the Huskies keep the momentum going? Or will Villanova earn its sixth trip to the championship round in the last seven years and prove they are still kings of the Big East? 

Here are our picks and predictions for the Big East Tournament semifinal matchup between the UConn Huskies and Villanova Wildcats.

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UConn and Villanova split their two regular-season meetings, with each winning on their home floor. However, the Huskies had to be disappointed with their loss in Philadelphia, as the Wildcats played that game without second-leading scorer Justin Moore (15.3 ppg). In addition, Collin Gillespie's 27 minutes were his second-lowest of the last 17 games, as he missed a significant stretch of the second half after rolling his ankle. Despite the injuries, Villanova shot 54.5% from 3-point range but more impressively dominated the paint, connecting on 23-of-38 (60.5%) 2-point attempts. 

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Scoring inside the arc will be a big key for Villanova tonight, as they struggled to do so for much of last night's game against St. John's. The Wildcats had zero points in the paint in the first half, which was a big reason they found themselves down 17 at one point. However, when they stopped settling for threes and got more aggressive, they started to chip away at the big lead and scored 18 points in the paint in the second half.

As disappointed as Connecticut feels in their wasted opportunity on the road at Villanova, the Wildcats are likely equally dissatisfied in their road loss to the Huskies. Villanova had a four-point lead with 31 seconds left, and this is how they ended the game: missed free throw, UConn 3-pointer, turnover, UConn layup, turnover, UConn free throw. About everything that could have gone wrong at the end of the game did for the Wildcats, and Jay Wright will be sure to preach the importance of playing a full 40 minutes tonight.

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It would be easy to point to last night's results and declare that UConn is the right side, given their dominance of Seton Hall and Villanova barely squeaking out a win over St. John's. However, the Red Storm's unique style of play proved a thorn in Villanova's side, while they will be much more comfortable against UConn's grind-it-out approach. In addition, though UConn was in control for much of the game against Seton Hall, their offense looked very vanilla at times, as they seemingly put R.J. Cole in countless pick-and-roll situations.

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Villanova has always had versatile perimeter defenders that are trusted when they switch on all ball screens, which should negate the open looks that Cole was getting so often against the Pirates. In their loss at Villanova (25 points), Cole was UConn's only offense, but the Wildcats defended him very well in the rematch, limiting him to 12 points on just ten shot attempts.

Had Villanova closed out their last game against UConn as they should have, they would enter with a six-game winning streak over the Huskies and a nine-game winning streak overall. In that case, the narrative surrounding this game would be much different, and we would likely be touting the Wildcats as bigger favorites. Do not let one bad minute of play in a raucous road environment deter you from the fact that Jay Wright has had Danny Hurley's number. Villanova is on the right side tonight, and I would play them up to -4.5. 

UConn vs Villanova Pick

PICK: VILLANOVA -3 (-110) (Bet $110 to Win $100)

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Mike Spector brings unmatched knowledge and insight into the game of football, and more importantly the process of betting on NFL football. Mike is the #2 ranked expert in FantasyPros' NFL betting contest

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