Xavier senior Sean O'Mara can usually find a couple of extra tickets for his family and friends from teammates, some of whom are from as far away as Georgia, New Jersey and even Turkey.
Not this weekend.
With No. 4 Xavier (24-3, 12-2 Big East) fighting for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and potentially its first Big East regular-season championship, extra tickets for Saturday’s game against No. 3 Villanova (23-3, 10-3) at Cintas Center in Cincinnati are impossible to find.
“I know tickets are very hard to find,” said O’Mara, who will have six family members in attendance, four of whom are using his four tickets. “We usually trade among teammates, but no one has extras for this one.”
Since losing 89-65 at then-No. 1 Villanova on Jan. 10, the Musketeers have won nine consecutive games, including back-to-back road victories at Butler and Creighton last week, to take a 1½-game lead over the Wildcats in the Big East standings.
Villanova has won four straight Big East regular-season championships since the league was reconfigured in 2013-14.
“I think [winning the Big East] is really, really hard to do,” O’Mara said. “Villanova has been incredibly talented, and they’ve been so consistent the last few years, and it’s been really hard to beat them. It would really mean a lot to do it, especially as a senior, if we can win this thing outright.”
The Wildcats have lost two of their past three games, including a 76-71 defeat at Providence on Wednesday night. They really seem to miss junior guard Phil Booth, who has missed the past six games with a fractured right hand. He scored a career-high 21 points with five 3-pointers in the first meeting.
“He’s a great player,” O’Mara said. “He’s one of the guys that really got it going early the first time we played. I think he’s one of their leaders, and he’s been on our scouting reporting every time we’ve played them.”
Other teams to watch this weekend:
Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma (noon ET, Saturday, ESPN)
The Longhorns (15-11, 5-8 Big 12) and No. 23 Sooners (16-9, 6-7) are each headed in the wrong direction as they enter the final two weeks of the regular season. Texas has lost four of five; Oklahoma has dropped four straight and five of six to fall out of the Big 12 regular-season title race.
The teams played in Austin two weeks ago, when the Longhorns walked away with a 79-74 victory. Unfortunately for Texas, it was the last time it won. The Longhorns are 5-8 in the Big 12 standings, tied with TCU and Oklahoma State and ahead of only last-place Iowa State, after finishing dead last in 2016-17.
The Longhorns are among Joe Lunardi's last four teams in the 68-team NCAA tournament field, so they need to turn things around quickly.
"We've got a lot of guys trying to figure it out," Texas coach Shaka Smart told reporters after Monday night's 74-73 loss to Baylor in two overtimes. "This league is very unforgiving. No one is going to feel sorry for you."
No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas (6 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN)
The No. 13 Jayhawks (20-6, 9-4 Big 12) face a huge week if they're going win at least a share of a 14th consecutive Big 12 regular-season title, starting with Saturday night's home game against the No. 20 Mountaineers (19-7, 8-5). Kansas has won at least a share of 13 straight Big 12 titles, which ties the 1967-79 UCLA teams of John Wooden for the longest such streak in NCAA history.
Kansas plays its next two at home, also playing host to No. 23 Oklahoma on Monday (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). First-place Texas Tech plays its next two at Baylor on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU) and at Oklahoma State on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU). The Jayhawks trail the Red Raiders by one game in the Big 12 standings.
If the Jayhawks and Red Raiders hold serve in their next two games, their showdown in Lubbock, Texas, on Feb. 24 might very well decide the Big 12 regular-season championship.
"We're still in a position [in which] we are not in a great position at all," Kansas coach Bill Self told reporters this week.
No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville (8:15 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN)
After taking over for fired Rick Pitino in late September, Louisville interim coach David Padgett has the Cardinals on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament field. The Cardinals (18-8, 8-5) are currently a No. 8 seed, according to Lundardi, and they're about to face a grueling five-game stretch to close the regular season.
After hosting the No. 14 Tar Heels (20-7, 9-5 ACC), the Cardinals will play three of their final four games on the road (at No. 12 Duke, Virginia Tech and NC State), and they play host to No. 1 Virginia on March 1.
The good news is that Louisville is expected to have leading scorer Deng Adel, who sat out the previous two games with an ankle injury. After dropping four of five, the Cardinals have blown out Georgia Tech and Pitt in consecutive contests.
Duke at Clemson (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, ACC Network)
The No. 12 Blue Devils (21-5, 9-4 ACC) won consecutive games without injured freshman star Marvin Bagley III, after dropping three of their previous four, to remain a No. 2 seed in Lunardi's latest bracket.
It's unclear whether Bagley, who has a mild right-knee sprain, will be back for Sunday's game. The ACC's leading scorer (21.2 points) and rebounder (11.4) was being held out for precautionary reasons, according to Duke officials.
The No. 11 Tigers (20-5, 9-4) blew an 18-point lead in the second half of an 81-79 loss in overtime at Florida State on Wednesday night. Worse, they might have lost junior guard Shelton Mitchell, who returned to Clemson after being hospitalized following a shot to the head in the loss to the Seminoles. Mitchell remains in concussion protocol. Tigers coach Brad Brownell is expected to provide an update on his status Friday.
Mitchell was hit with 11 seconds remaining and was knocked out momentarily. He attempted to get up before collapsing back to the floor and was eventually carried off the court.
He is averaging 11.8 points and 3.8 assists per game for Clemson
Ohio State at Michigan (1 p.m. ET, Sunday, CBS)
The No. 8 Buckeyes (22-6, 13-2 Big Ten) will try to continue their unlikely quest for a Big Ten regular-season championship at their biggest rival on Sunday, despite Thursday's blowout loss against Penn State.
No. 22 Michigan (21-7, 10-5) trails Nebraska by one game for the fourth spot in the Big Ten standings; the top four teams get a bye into the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament at Madison Square Garden (Feb. 28-March 4).
Ohio State rallied from a 20-point deficit to beat Michigan 71-62 in Columbus, Ohio, on Dec. 4, its third straight victory in the series.
No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati (4 p.m. ET, Sunday, ESPN)
Cincinnati's 16-game winning streak came to an end on Thursday night against Houston. Wichita State's win over Temple means the Shockers are only two games behind the Bearcats in the AAC standings.
They'll play twice in the final two weeks of the regular season; Cincinnati plays at Wichita State on March 4.