Louisville begins defense of Big East crown against 'Nova

The second-seed Louisville Cardinals begin their quest for a second straight tournament title when they battle the seventh-seed Villanova Wildcats in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

The winner of this game will move into the semifinals against either Notre Dame or Marquette.

Villanova helped its NCAA Tournament hopes and advanced to the second round with a convincing 66-53 win over 10th-seed St. John's on Wednesday. The win was the second straight for the Wildcats who took down top-seed Georgetown in their regular-season finale. Although Villanova has been in the league since 1980, the Wildcats have only won a Big East Tournament title once (1995) while having a seven-year streak in the NCAA Tournament end last season.

A year ago Louisville was the seventh-seed but led by Peyton Siva, who went onto be Tournament MVP, the Cardinals took home the crown. The Cardinals have an even better shot this time around after positing a 26-5 record overall and a 14-4 mark in league action which had them tied for the regular season title with Georgetown in Marquette.

Villanova topped Louisville, 73-64, for one of its signature wins of the regular season in the only matchup between the two teams. The victory allowed the Wildcats to pull ahead, 9-8, in the all-time series.

Mouphtaou Yarou scored 18 points and had seven rebounds to lead the Wildcats over the Red Storm in the first round. The Wildcats hounded St. John's on defense all night holding the 10th-seed to just 35.6 percent shooting and scored 16 points off of 17 Red Storm turnovers.

Yarou (9.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg) has not normally been called upon to carry the offense for the Wildcats but can be a decent scorer when called upon as he connects on 47 percent of his shots from the field. Third-team All-Big East forward JayVaughn Pinkston (12.9 ppg) and All-Big East Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono (12.2 ppg) are usually primary contributors for Jay Wright's squad on the scoreboard. The pair combined for 27 points against St. John's but Arcidiacono had a rough night shooting just 3-of-11 from the field while turning the ball over eight times.

In its regular-season finale, Louisville got some revenge from a five-overtime loss earlier in the season with a 73-57 win at home over Notre Dame. Gorgui Dieng was dominant inside in the win as he posted a 20-point, 11-rebound double-double, while blocking five shots and collecting three steals.

Siva (9.5 ppg, 6.0 apg) has had a more inconsistent season than last year but still earned an All-Big East Third Team selection. Meanwhile the fearless Russ Smith (17.9 ppg) and double-double machine Dieng (10.3 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) each made it onto the first team. Louisville is one of the more balanced teams in the conference on both ends of the floor. The Cardinals score more points per game than any team in the Big East (73.5) while ranking in the top five in both assists (14.9 pg) and field goal percentage (.446). On defense the Cardinals rank among the top 25 teams nationally in points allowed (59.4 pg) and field goal percentage (.388).