Thursday, March 20, 2014

March Madness: Previewing Nova's Tournament Prospects

March 20, 2014

By Greg Frank

Villanova is one of two Big 5 teams in the field this year and could very well meet the other, St. Joseph’s, in a third round matchup in Buffalo.  

Villanova went the entire regular season as the clear cut best team in Philadelphia. However, the Wildcats are coming in off a tough loss in the Big East tournament to Seton Hall.  

It’s never good to enter the NCAA Tournament off of a loss to an inferior opponent in a conference tournament.  Such begs the question, could this be more than a one-game bump in the road for Villanova? Might they exit early? Or will the Wildcats go deep in the east region?

The last time Villanova was a two seed, they exited early.  The Wildcats narrowly escaped against the 15 seed in their region, Robert Morris, only to be upset by St. Mary’s in the next round back in 2010.  

Historically under Jay Wright, besides a run to the Final Four in 2009, the Wildcats haven’t had many other deep runs.  Being a two seed would indicate Wright’s team is capable of another deep run.  But to that I say, not so fast.

This season, in the new Big East, Villanova didn’t play as high of a level of competition as they did in the old Big East.  The only consistently ranked team in the league besides Villanova was Creighton.  When the two schools played, Creighton thoroughly beat down on Villanova twice. 

The Wildcats have a great non-conference win over fellow two seed Kansas, but that win only holds so much weight, as does another non-conference win against another tournament team in Iowa.  So when the competition gets tough, how will the Wildcats respond?

That’s a question that we don’t really know the answer to, and because we don’t know the answer to that question it may be tough to see a deep run in this year’s tournament from Villanova.  

Had the Wildcats ran through the Big East tournament with ease then maybe I wouldn’t be as skeptical.  But the wins and losses are closely magnified in March. A loss to Seton Hall may look bad in January, but it looks even worse in March, especially with it being the last game Villanova played before entering the big dance.

I expect them to get past the 15 seed in the East region, Milwaukee.  But moving forward, it’s tough to really predict with confidence.  Sure, if Villanova puts a convincing beat down on Milwaukee, maybe then they’ll have proved that the Seton Hall loss was merely a fluke.  

But moving forward, the teams Villanova could run into past Milwaukee could cause the Wildcats lots of problems.

Villanova would draw either UConn or St. Joe's in the next round should they get past Milwaukee.  Both these teams are capable of beating Villanova.  

UConn enters off of impressive wins against Memphis and Cincinnati in the American Athletic Conference tournament and St. Joseph’s comes in having won the Atlantic-10 tournament with a nice win in the final against Virginia Commonwealth on Sunday.

That kind of momentum is crucial in March and isn’t on Villanova’s side, which is why the Seton Hall loss hurts a little more than just the average unexpected loss.  

If Villanova is able to get to the Sweet 16, they could very well face Iowa State.  

Iowa State is another team who enters the tournament with momentum having won the Big 12 tournament.  

It’s all about getting hot at the right time, and losing early in the Big East tournament did just the opposite for Villanova.

I think we see a Philadelphian’s dream NCAA tournament game with the Holy War this Saturday in Buffalo, as I expect Villanova and St. Joe's to win their games against Milwaukee and UConn respectively.  

However, I expect a much different result than the 30-point bludgeoning Villanova handed to St. Joseph’s in the regular season.  Look for the Hawks to upset the Wildcats and for 2014 to be another early exit for Villanova and Jay Wright.

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