Two birds, one stone.
It’s all in front of No. 12 Seton Hall on Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. The chance to end a 17-game road losing streak to Villanova that dates from February 1994 and the opportunity to gain a stranglehold over the Big East with a three-game lead and seven league contests remaining.
“A win would be huge on all levels,” Pirates coach Kevin Willard said in a phone interview on the eve of the showdown.
Seton Hall versus Villanova has developed into one of the premier rivalries in the Big East. The two teams have played in the Big East Tournament final in two of the past four years. Though the Wildcats have owned the conference, the Pirates have been a thorn in their sides, beating them once in three of the previous five seasons.
It, however, has remained one-sided in Philadelphia. Villanova’s 17 wins have come by an average of 16 points. But the tenor is different this year.
“They’re the front-runners in the conference,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the Pirates. “I think they’re one of the best teams in the country.”
For once, No. 10 Villanova (17-5, 7-3) is looking up at Seton Hall (17-5, 9-1) in the standings. The Pirates will have the best player — preseason All-American Myles Powell — on the floor, and the more experienced, battle-tested roster. A Pirates win would hardly be considered an upset. They are undefeated on the road while Villanova is coming off consecutive losses, including a buzzer-beating setback at No. 19 Butler. Powell snapped out of a shooting funk by scoring 34 points in a road win over Georgetown on Wednesday and second-leading scorer Sandro Mamukelashvili has begun to look like himself after missing seven weeks with a fractured right hand.
“We’re real excited for [Saturday],” said guard Quincy McKnight, one of Seton Hall’s three senior starters. “It’s a big game. It’s always a big game when we play against Villanova.”
Willard doesn’t subscribe to the notion the nature of the rivalry is different. Seton Hall may lead Villanova in the standings, and the Wildcats do lack seniors, but they still remain formidable. In his mind, they are still the team to beat, as last year’s regular season and tournament Big East champions.
“Until someone wins the conference outright besides them, we’re all hunting them still,” he said.
Possibly, but a lot would change with a Seton Hall victory. The Pirates would become the clear front-runner, on their way to their first league crown since 1993. For that to happen, though, Seton Hall has to leave Philadelphia victorious — which hasn’t happened in nearly three decades.
“It would obviously mean a lot. We haven’t won there in  years is kind of a crazy thing to say,” McKnight said. “They’re a great team, sometimes that happens. For us to break that streak would be great for the program and university as a whole.
“It would be a statement win.”