Villanova awaits NCAA seeding

Maalik Wayns gets instructions from Villanova coach Jay Wright. "He is a true Villanova guard," Wright said of Wayns.
Maalik Wayns gets instructions from Villanova coach Jay Wright. "He is a true Villanova guard," Wright said of Wayns.
Posted: March 13, 2011

Jay Wright thought for a few seconds about the idea that 11 teams from one conference - the league champion plus 10 at-large bids - could be playing in the NCAA tournament, and had to laugh at the irony.

"I never thought I'd be rooting so hard for 11 teams," the Villanova coach said Friday, warily looking ahead to Sunday's televised announcement of the selections and brackets for the NCAAs.

"You know, I got asked that question all year and I never once considered it was going to be us that was going to be 11th. And I always said, 'Yeah, I do think [we should have 11] from this league.' Thank God I said yes because we would end up being the 11th - if we make it."

Despite a five-game losing streak, the Wildcats almost have nothing to be afraid of when they gather to watch the Selection Sunday telecast in private. They are in, though a bit of doubt exists about whether the committee will put them in one of this week's two play-in games involving the last four at-large teams.

Doubt should exist. The Cats did nothing to help themselves in losing to South Florida in the first round of the Big East tournament. Marquette, the only team unsure of its NCAA status entering the Madison Square Garden event, erased all questions with two wins. The Cats fell, and must sweat it out.

"In the Big East, you always have the opportunity to not have yourself in this situation," Wright said. "When everybody complains the league is too tough, I don't look at it that way. I look at it as, it gives you the opportunity to prove yourself every night.

"If we won over Syracuse or St. John's, there would be no argument," he added, referring to the first two defeats - both at the Wells Fargo Center - in the five-game skid.

Two veteran observers of the brackets think 'Nova is in but differ on the seed.

Jerry Palm of CollegeRPI.com had Villanova as a No. 8 seed Saturday, while ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi dropped the Wildcats from the lowest of four No. 10 seeds to the highest No. 11, a standing that's in jeopardy of falling a notch or two with wins Saturday by Richmond and Penn State.

"They're not going to miss," Palm, who ranked the Wildcats No. 37 in the RPI, said Saturday. "They might have their seed slip, but I still think they'll wind up in the 8-9 game. I don't think they'll get passed much because there are just so many teams still playing."

Lunardi, who publishes an "S-curve" estimate on which the seeds are based in his "Insider" column on ESPN.com, had the Wildcats at 43 the day after the USF loss. That number rose to 42 after Thursday's games and 41 after Friday, but is still perilously close to play-in status.

The Wildcats, probably a No. 3 seed when they were 16-1, remained a 6 or 7 even after losing four straight to ranked teams. But the embarrassment against South Florida sent their projected seed tumbling and had critics wondering if the selection committee should include a team that is 5-10 over the last two months, with seven losses in its last nine games.

There is no way of knowing what factors the committee will weigh more heavily in its consideration of where to put Villanova - its poor finish, the impact of the injuries to Corey Stokes, the "eye test" when comparing teams head to head, or the fact the Cats had six wins against the RPI top 50.

For better or worse, looking at the entire picture, the Big East deserves 11 teams in the field. Villanova may not be one of the best 37 at-large teams currently, but its overall resumé is better than most teams occupying the bubble, one of the weakest ever, a result of the field expanding to 68 teams.

"It means the tournament will have three more teams that should be in the NIT," Palm said. "If we still had 65, nobody would be talking about Clemson, Boston College, or UAB. Those teams are only on the bubble because the field is too big."

Palm said the last seven or eight teams on the bubble "all look the same," but conference tournaments give them an opportunity to stand out. Penn State capitalized with back-to-back wins over Wisconsin and Michigan State, and now is likely in.

"Penn State was the ultimate home-court hero," he said. "They hadn't done anything away from home all year. Now they've picked up two high-quality wins, filled the holes in their resumé, and they're in the field."

The Wildcats didn't help themselves, which means quite a few nervous people will be watching and praying to see "Villanova" come up Sunday on a bracket.


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494 or jjuliano@phillynews.com.

 

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