Villanova, No. 2 in East, will play Milwaukee in NCAA tournament

Coach Jay Wright and Villanova will face St. Joseph's if both teams get past their first opponent in the tournament.
Coach Jay Wright and Villanova will face St. Joseph's if both teams get past their first opponent in the tournament. (DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 18, 2014

A roar of disappointment and disgust went up Sunday from friends and alumni crowded into the Connelly Center's multipurpose room when "Virginia" went up on the No. 1 seed line in the East Regional instead of Villanova.

But the Wildcats players and coaches were just fine with being the region's No. 2 seed, good for a matchup against Horizon League tournament champion University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Thursday in Buffalo.

"I thought a No. 1 seed was possible, but I understood we weren't going to get it because we lost in the quarterfinals of the Big East" tournament, senior guard Tony Chennault said. "But it doesn't matter. Just being here is a great honor, so you're not going to get caught up in a 1 seed, 2 seed, 3 seed. All of these teams in the tournament are here for a reason - they all can play."

The Wildcats (28-4) lost to Seton Hall, 64-63, on Sterling Gibbs' buzzer-beating jumper. Still they were rewarded for a consistent regular season with a high seed in making it to the Big Dance for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.

Villanova coach Jay Wright said he never worries about seeding. He remembered some close calls involving the Wildcats as a high seed, including an overtime contest against No. 15 Robert Morris before the No. 2 Cats survived in 2010, the last time they were seeded that high.

"You're going to play great teams," he said. "Usually the things that you worry about don't happen, and the things that you don't think of happen. Happy to be in it, happy to have a high seed. Then you've got to play good basketball."

The matchup announced right after Villanova's raised more than a few eyebrows - No. 7 seed Connecticut, a former Big East colleague of Villanova, against No. 10 seed St. Joseph's, the Wildcats' biggest Big Five rival.

Wright said "you almost kind of figured" those two teams could be paired in the opposite side because nearly all selected teams had been announced.

But with St. Joseph's as a possible third-round opponent, it couldn't be random, right?

"I really think that there are so many connections in college basketball, I really do think it's random," Wright said. "You can come up with so many connections in all the games."

However, before the Wildcats can think about Hawks or Huskies, they have to concern themselves with Panthers.

Milwaukee (21-13) posted an amazing turnaround from the previous year, when they finished 8-24 and in last place in the Horizon League. Even though they went 7-9 in conference games this season, the Panthers ran off four straight wins in the tournament, with their biggest victory coming at top-seeded Green Bay.

The Panthers have four players averaging in double figures, led by two seniors - Jordan Aaron (15.0 points per game), a 5-foot-10 guard, and Kyle Kelm (12.6 points per game), a 6-9 forward.

"I'm pretty sure I saw them one time this year," Wright said. "They're a Midwestern team, tough as hell. You don't come out of those leagues without being really good. When you're good in those leagues, you're probably a veteran team."

For Villanova's players, some studying is in order.

"I don't even know what conference they're in," guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "But they're playing good basketball right now and they won their conference tournament, so it's going to be tough."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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