Villanova takes 2 big steps forward

Posted: January 29, 2013

WHAT A DIFFERENCE a week can make. So maybe some cynics will even concede that Villanova's Jay Wright might actually have a clue again.

Two wins over Top 5 teams in 5 days will do that for a perspective. Ironically, both were over teams that the Wildcats will no longer be playing once this Big East implosion mess finally plays itself out. Last Saturday they left Providence with a three-game losing streak. Now, while still far from a finished product, they've at least already matched their victory total from last season (13-7, 4-3). And put themselves in position where they'll become part of the NCAA Tournament conversation if they continue doing more good things. Who would have figured that after they were picked for 12th in the preseason conference poll?

On Saturday morning/afternoon (tipoff was 11 a.m.), the Wildcats beat third-ranked Syracuse, 75-71, in overtime at the Wells Fargo Center. The same Syracuse that had won 28 of 29 Big East games, and beaten them by 11 on Jan. 12 at the Carrier Dome.

On Tuesday, they'd beaten No. 5 Louisville by nine, also in South Philly.

This time, after leading at halftime for the 14th straight game, they needed a three-pointer from the left corner by freshman Ryan Arcidiacano off a second chance with 2 seconds left just to force an extra 5 minutes. "Arch" had been 1-for-7 from the arc before that. In the OT, they went ahead for keeps on a James Bell three, also from the left corner, with 2:43 to go. Bell would make another, this one from the right wing, at 1:55. Before that he'd also gone 1-for-7. Naturally. The Orange (18-2, 6-1) had a chance to get even with 47 seconds left, but Brandon Triche missed the second of two free throws. A Bell layup extended the lead to three at 0:28, and the Wildcats closed it out with four foul shots. They're 10-0 when they get six triples (they finished 9-for-27).

The last team to beat Top 5s back-to-back was Ball State, 12 years ago.

It's the kind of step Villanova has been seeking for nearly two seasons. Remember, the Wildcats lost at home to Columbia in November. By double digits. Going forward 1 week, no matter how significant, doesn't guarantee them anything. But it does raise their ceiling. And the return to what it was like for so long has to start somewhere. They're not always pretty. Yet they've shown some grit.

So it's on to Wednesday's game at Notre Dame (16-4, 4-3), which was ranked 24th last week but lost at home by 16 to Georgetown on Monday. The Wildcats are 6-3 at the Purcell Pavilion in Big East play.

Four of the next six are on the road, where they're 4-3. After ND, it's an on-campus rematch with Providence (10-10, 2-6); at DePaul (10-9, 1-5); home against South Florida (10-9, 1-6), which they beat by 11 in Tampa earlier this month; at No. 21 Cincinnati (16-4, 4-3); and at Connecticut (13-5, 3-3). Those first three teams are the last three in the standings. So there's a chance to build on what just went down.

It should be an interesting ride. Perhaps more interesting than most anticipated.

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