'Cats usually land on their feet

ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's Jay Wright yells to his team during loss to Creighton.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Villanova's Jay Wright yells to his team during loss to Creighton.
Posted: February 19, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - OK, what are we to make of Villanova's 21-point loss at Creighton Sunday? The same Creighton that had beaten the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2 Big East) by 28 on Jan. 20 in South Philly.

Well, for starters, it meant they fell three spots in the rankings, to ninth, one point ahead of Saint Louis (23-2), which hasn't lost since Dec. 1. And they're 29 points ahead of the teams that tied for 11th, defending national champion Louisville (21-4) and, what do you know, Creighton (21-4, 11-2), which does at least have one more loss. The Bluejays had been 18th.

The Wildcats' other loss, of course, was at unbeaten Syracuse in late December, by 16, a game that they led by 18 midway through the first half. And they did beat Kansas, which moved up to eighth, and Iowa, which is 15th, in November at a tournament in the Bahamas. And they still count in the old RPI.

One of the best things about the Wildcats is that they've responded after each of their previous losses. Tonight, they're at Providence (17-9, 7-6), a team they beat by 30 in early January on the Main Line. But the Friars have won three of the last five meetings, including the last two up there. And coach Jay Wright is 4-5 at the Dunkin Donuts Center with Villanova. Yet Providence has lost four of its last six. And the wins were both over lowly DePaul. So . . .

The last thing you need at this point in the season is your first losing streak of the season. But this could be a tough spot, especially if their minds are still somewhat in Omaha. After this, as Creighton coach Greg McDermott correctly pointed out, Villanova has four of its last five at home while the Jays close with three of five on the road. Both are going to be in the 68-team NCAA field. And both could obviously be top-four seeds. Maybe at the very least. What they're battling for now is to put together the best resume they possibly can for the Selection Committee, although there's also the matter of finishing first in the regular season. Creighton, one of the league's three newcomers, has said that was a goal. The Wildcats only tell you they want to keep getting better. Fair enough. Still, they haven't been the top seed in the conference tournament in a long time.

About all we know for certain is that the Wildcats probably wouldn't want a third game against Creighton next month at Madison Square Garden. But if the worst thing you can say about them is that Doug McDermott and company, for whatever reasons, present a bad matchup, so be it. They've shown they can win close games, against worthy opponents, especially on the road.

This is the third time a Villanova team managed to win 22 of its first 24. None won the next one. It happens, although the way it happened this time was a bit excessive. The 2006 team still made it to the Elite Eight despite losing in the Big East semifinals. The 2010 squad didn't finish the regular season well and lost in the second round of the Madness as a second seed, after almost losing its opener.

We'll find out what 2014 brings. No player on this team has won an NCAA game. And there's still a way to go before the brackets are set.

The Wildcats could have just about clinched first place by beating Creighton. They didn't. Now they have some work to do. And they've at the very least created some doubt by losing that way again. A second straight loss, even if it's by one, would only raise more questions. And who needs that heading into the homestretch?

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