It will be very interesting to see what the secondary market for tickets to the East Region semifinal and final games at WFC looks like in the coming weeks, since Villanova’s shocking defeat to Seton Hall in the Big East tourney final dispatched the Wildcats to the South bracket and a potential second-weekend stay in Louisville. All those Nova fans who were hoping to cheer on their heroes after a modest, half-hour car ride must now decide if they want to travel to Kentucky or watch the game at home on their couches.
Oh, the humanity.
This wasn’t what was supposed to happen. Villanova’s troubles weren’t supposed to start until they reached the NCAA tournament. Some upstart outfit from South Orange wasn’t expected to interrupt the Big Apple party. Instead of sleeping in their own beds and shooting on the rims they’ve assaulted three times this year, the Cats must hit the road. Worse, Big East rival Xavier jumped ahead of the Wildcats in the seeding hierarchy and grabbed the No. 2 spot in the East and the potential games in South Philly.
But enough of the whining. That’s all over. It’s time for Villanova to play the games that matter, and spending any time worrying about missed opportunities is counterproductive to the goal of reaching the second weekend of the tourney for the first time since 2009. That’s what this season is all about. Jay Wright can talk all he wants about how the games from November to mid-March are important to the players and their time at Nova—El Hombre understands that. For the college basketball world, however, the real measuring starts right now.
It’s ludicrous to say that another first-weekend flop could put Wright at any risk at all. Those who say that his recent inability to lead a team to the Sweet 16 and beyond even puts his dismissal into even the slightest consideration should be banned from the use of heavy machinery and kept clear of anything more dangerous than a box of Kleenex.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some pressure on Wright to deliver some tourney wins (plural) this year. He should be carried to work in a sedan chair each day for what he has accomplished, not to mention the attention he’s brought to the school. But he—probably more than anybody—knows that coaches are judged on the national scene entirely on their ability to win during the tournament.
So, how does it look? The Cats shouldn’t have too much trouble with 15th-seeded UNC-Asheville in the first round. The Bulldogs have the nation’s third-highest steals rate and hold rivals to a meager 28.4 percent success rate from behind the arc. But they’re young and relatively challenged offensively. Figure on a double-digit win. Then comes the biggie—and not just because the second-round rival will be Temple. (The Owls will take care of Iowa, which closed the season 5-7.) The ghosts of George Mason, St. Mary’s and NC State will be floating above the Barclays Center court when the Wildcats tip off Sunday, and don’t think Fran Dunphy’s team wouldn’t love to add to Villanova’s misery with an upset win.
But Nova prevails in the second round and then takes care of Miami in Louisville March 24. That’s as far as it goes. Kansas’ depth and talent takes over in the regional final, and the Jayhawks reach Houston with an exciting—but ultimately disappointing, for Villanova fans—victory.
Consider it mission accomplished for Villanova. Sure, there won’t be a Final Four entry on the ’15-16 resume, but a trip to the Elite Eight is pretty damn good. And it should more than salve the wounds those Pirates inflicted Saturday night in the Garden.
EL HOMBRE SEZ: Saint Joseph’s had better be ready for a first-round brawl against Cincinnati. The Bearcats lead the country in two-point field goal defense (40.6 percent) and boast a husky pair of forwards—Gary Clark and Octavius Ellis—who should provide SJU’s DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles with quite a challenge. Even though UC plays better offense than it has in quite a while, it doesn’t shoot well, and the Hawks should take advantage of that to win a real slugfest.