Villanova can't complain

Posted: March 19, 2013

OK, SO HOW many bracketologists figured Villanova would be in the NCAA mix when it was picked to finish 12th in a 15-team Big East?

How about after the Wildcats lost four of five in late November/early December, which included an 18-pointer to Columbia on the Main Line?

Or maybe when they started 2-3 in the conference. Or even when they got beat by Providence - for the second time. And don't forget that inexplicable late meltdown at Seton Hall, whose other conference wins were against just-as-dreadful South Florida and DePaul (by one).

None of that matters any more, because the Wildcats (20-13), following a 1-year hiatus, are back in the only tournament for which President Obama fills out an office pool.

For the eighth time in nine seasons, they're part of the 68-team field, despite losing their two leading scorers from a 13-19 team a year early. Yo, there's something to be said for continuity.

"I know what the perception would have been, had we not gone 2 years in a row," coach Jay Wright said. "I knew [what direction] it was going with these [younger] guys, but I wasn't sure it would happen this quickly."

Because it did, his team - which lost to Louisville in the Big East quarterfinals - was given a No. 9 seed in the South Region. They'll go to Kansas City, where they'll play No. 8 North Carolina (24-9) - which lost in Sunday's ACC title game to Miami - on Friday in the second round. The winner likely would get top-seeded Kansas (29-5), your Big 12 champion, on Sunday. Unless the Jayhawks lose to Western Kentucky (20-15), which won the Sun Belt tourney.

Did we mention that Roy Williams is going for his 700th win? Or that he could be coaching against his former team if the Heels advance? The NCAA, of course, does these pairings randomly.

"I can't complain," said Wright, one of eight Big East teams and three from Philly that made it. "Obviously we're thrilled to be in the tournament. We're honored, humbled and proud of that. You sit back and see how the [Selection] committee evaluates you. You don't know."

Only two players were on a Villanova team that won an NCAA game. Only three have even played in a four-letter loss. They have a freshman point guard who missed last season following back surgery yet averages a team-high 34 minutes. They've been really hard to watch at times, even in some wins. But here they are, in the Madness once again, mostly because they play hard and beat the three teams that tied for the Big East regular-season championship and the one that played Louisville in the conference final. Three were ranked in the top five at the time. It was enough to get them off the bubble and onto the bracket sheet.

"This is why you come to Villanova," Wright said. "It doesn't get any better. We're confident we can play with anybody in the country. I think we've earned that confidence. We've also know we could lose to anyone.

"Obviously [UNC's] a great program. Most years I get to see them a lot. This year I haven't. They want to push the ball at you for 40 minutes. That's difficult."

They played the Tar Heels in the Sweet 16 in 2005, and the Final Four in 2009. The first one came down to a controversial call. The second was close until midway through the second half. Both times, UNC wound up cutting down the last set of nets.

"It doesn't matter who we're playing," said freshman lead guard Ryan Arcidiacono. "We know we're going to play our hardest. I didn't even know we got North Carolina. Then I was like, 'All right, that's fine. That's who we're playing.' "

Added junior James Bell: "We know North Carolina's a good team. We know we are, too. If we come out and stick to what we do, anything could happen. We played some big games this year."

From this point on, they all are.

"It feels great right now," said senior big man Mouphtaou Yarou, whose improved play in the second half sure didn't hurt the cause. "I'm a little bit selfish. Scottie [Reynolds] took his team [to the NCAAs as a senior in 2010], Corey [Fisher] took his team [the following year]. I wanted to take this team."

And he has. It doesn't just happen. They found that out rather harshly last season.

"It's been a gratifying year," Wright said. "But we'll talk about that later . . .

"I would say every year, appreciate where we are. I'm really proud of where we are. Now, we have 4 days to get better."

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