Villanova's season just got a bit more interesting

Posted: March 14, 2014

NEW YORK - Nothing has changed in Jay Wright's mind. The NCAA Tournament remains wide open and he believes his team is entirely capable of winning six games. One loss, however disappointing - definition of disappointing: Seton Hall 64, Villanova 63 - has not altered his thinking. Not a bit, it seems.

"I've always felt we're a good team that can go deep in the tournament," the Villanova coach said after the postgame news conference was over. "But I've also said we can get beat by anybody - and we did today.

"We're not a dominant team. We're a really good team that can beat anybody. We can beat anybody in the country. But I said this - we can get beat by anybody, and we just did."

He works in a sport in which the truth is almost impossible to corral, where the only proper response to the question, "How good is Team X," is to look at your watch and ask, "What time is it?" There is no behemoth entering the upcoming NCAA Tournament - and Wright knows this, because Wright has run into a behemoth or two along the way, such as in the 2009 national semifinals against North Carolina.

"In '09, we went to the Final Four and played them," he said. "And after you played them, you felt like, 'We played well but they're just better.' I don't think there is a team this year in the tournament that's totally dominant."

His team can play with anybody - Wright says it again and again. Unheralded, they have gone on to win 28 games. Unloved even after the aforementioned 28 wins, they have a perplexing record because of how few ranked teams they played down the stretch, and because of the way Creighton poleaxed them twice. But even with all of that, Villanova still seemed on the verge of snagging a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Then Seton Hall happened, and the Wildcats' fascinating season just got a little more fascinating.

The Pirates stunned them yesterday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Stunned, underlined. Playing its second game in about 17 hours, Seton Hall took advantage of a sleepy Villanova start, weathered Villanova's defense-fueled comeback, and then hit a shot at the buzzer - a Sterling Gibbs jumper from the top of the key - to bounce the Wildcats out of the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.

With that, with that loss to the league's No. 8 seed still so raw, the Wildcats went home for several days of waiting and wondering.

"They're a very self-confident group, they really are," Wright said. "We started flat, but they weren't wavering. They felt they were coming back. When we took the lead, they believed we were winning then . . . And then the kid hits a shot and they're shocked. That's just what they are.

"I love 'em. You've got to deal with the hand you're dealt. This, now, we've got to deal with this. That's our next challenge."

Wright did not run from the feeling. The word he used was "crushing." But just as this loss does not define the Wildcats, it did happen. The top line in the tournament is now gone, it would seem, although a trip to Buffalo remains likely. But the difference between the first seed and the second seed is minuscule. The truth is, trying to predict anything based upon seed or setting is pretty much a waste of time.

"You know, honestly, any of that stuff in the NCAA Tournament, I really don't care about," Wright said. "There's so many variables in the NCAA Tournament. We played a first-round game twice in the Wells Fargo Center, and we're down in the second half. I thought it was tough playing at home. I thought the pressure was on us.

"And then we had other times - in the second-round game at the Wells Fargo Center against Arizona in '06 - we never would have won that game if we didn't have the crowd behind us.

"There's so many variables, we don't worry about any of that," Wright said. "We're happy to be in there. We'll play anybody anywhere, and we don't talk about that stuff."

Instead, they will talk about Seton Hall 64, Villanova 63 - at least a little. Wright said, "We're not going to overreact to it," and it makes perfect sense. But another slow start in their next game - or, more likely, the one after that - will likely end their season before a 28-win resumé would suggest. Another flat first half and, well, the evidence is plain.

"It happens here and it kills you," Jay Wright said.

Or in Buffalo.


Email: hofmanr@phillynews.com

On Twitter: @theidlerich

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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