Villanova Wildcats

Breaking down Villanova's path, chances to make Final Four

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Breaking down Villanova's path, chances to make Final Four

Villanova's quest for its second national championship in the last three years begins Thursday. 'Nova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region for the third time in four years, takes on Radford in the first round.

Villanova's chances
Villanova is the favorite to win its region. In fact, Vegas bookmakers have installed the Wildcats as the overall favorite to win the national championship. There are several reasons for that vote of confidence. First and foremost, Villanova is really good. The Wildcats have two of the best players in the country in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Factor in Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, and Villanova has as much talent as anyone. This is the best offensive team Jay Wright has had at Villanova. This season the Wildcats averaged over 87 points and shot 50.4 percent from the field. They improved significantly defensively toward the end of the season, holding their last five opponents to an average of 69 points.

The Wildcats are also healthy for the first time since early December. Booth and Paschall both missed significant time in February, resulting in a 3-3 stretch for Villanova. But 'Nova won its last five games as Wright settled on an eight-man rotation featuring a heavy reliance on his starters and DiVincenzo. Barring foul trouble, freshmen Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree should see limited minutes in the tournament.

Player to watch
This distinction goes to Alabama freshman Collin Sexton, who Villanova could face in the second round Saturday. Sexton will be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He's an explosive lead guard tailor-made for the NBA. Sexton averages 19 points and took it up a notch last weekend, averaging 26.3 points the SEC Tournament. The second round has been a stumbling block for Villanova in recent years. Sexton has the ability to put a serious scare into the Wildcats if Alabama can get past Virginia Tech.

Tournament coaches
NCAA Tournament-tested coaches go a long way toward success. There are several such coaches in 'Nova's region. Wright has won 21 NCAA Tournament games, leading the Wildcats to five Sweet 16 appearances, two Final Fours and a national championship in 2016. This will be West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' 24th NCAA Tournament. Like Wright, Huggins has coached in two Final Fours — one each with WVU and Cincinnati. Then there's Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, who will be coaching in his 14th NCAA Tournament. Marshall led Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013 and the Sweet 16 in 2015.  

Delayed matchup?
If seeding holds, Villanova would play No. 2 seed Purdue in the regional final. A lot of people expected this matchup to take place back in November at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but Purdue was upset by Tennessee in the first round. Villanova and Purdue did meet in November 2016, with the Wildcats winning 79-76 on the Boilermakers' home court. If these two teams meet in the Elite Eight, Villanova will have to contend with Purdue's 1-2 punch of sharp-shooting guard Carsen Edwards and 7-2 big man Isaac Haas. 

Villanova takes advantage of a favorable draw and advances to its second Final Four in the last three years. The Wildcats will handle Radford and contain Sexton and Alabama in the second round. They'll survive a tough test from WVU in the Sweet 16 before beating Purdue in the Elite Eight. From there it's on to the Final Four, where a whole new set of challenges will await.   

Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance

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Villanova survives 1 final test ahead of Big Dance


NEW YORK — Mikal Bridges scored 25 points and hit two 3-pointers in overtime to lift No. 2 Villanova to a 76-66 win over Providence in the Big East Tournament championship game Saturday night.

The Wildcats (30-4) won their second straight Big East Tournament and third in four years (losing in the 2016 final). They put the bow on a fantastic season that should have them earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova had rolled to a pair of dominant victories in the tourney and held off a pesky Providence team that played its third straight overtime game.

The fifth-seeded Friars (21-13) rallied in the second half from yet another double-digit hole and seemed set to pull off one more upset and earn the automatic NCAA berth. Providence erased a 17-point hole in the second half to beat top-seeded Xavier to reach the final. With one stunning rally on its resume, Providence nearly made it two.

Kyron Cartwright hit a jumper with 1:38 left that tied the game at 58-all and Alpha Diallo scored on a driving layup with 40 seconds left for a 60-58 lead.

Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson tied it for Villanova with two free throws.

Providence missed a last-gasp shot at the buzzer and played in its third straight overtime game.

The Friars ran out of gas in OT. Bridges, who scored 25 points, opened overtime with a 3 and hit another that helped stretch the lead for good. Brunson tied a career-high with 31 points on an emphatic dunk that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy.

Brunson proved his worth as the best in the conference. He hit four 3s and made 12 of 23 overall from the floor, showing on the national stage why he's a candidate for national player of the year.

Providence coach Ed Cooley may have split his pants as he coached the second half with a towel tucked in his waist.

It almost worked as a rally towel.

Cartwright put Providence's comeback in overdrive when he hit a 3 that made it 51-46 and had Cooley smiling and clapping on the sideline. He loved it even more when Cartwright came right back and hit another 3 to pulled the Friars within two.

Drew Edwards flexed his biceps when he was fouled on a tying basket and had the crowd chanting "Let's Go Friars!" headed into a timeout. He sank the free to give Providence its first lead of the game, 52-51.

The Wildcats snatched the lead back and Bridges buried a 3 from the top of the arc that sent the team to their feet. Brunson was whistled next time down for an offensive foul and coach Jay Wright twirled and stretched his arms toward the sky in protest. Eric Paschall hit a floater in the lane that seemed to steady the Wildcats.

Providence just kept on coming. The Friars had defeated three top-five teams this season and was soaring following two straight overtime victories over Creighton and the Musketeers to reach the final.

Diallo led with 22 points and Cartwright scored 19 for Providence.

Villanova makes it look easy at MSG

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Villanova makes it look easy at MSG


NEW YORK -- Phil Booth insisted he was so focused on defense and finding open teammates that he never glanced at the scoreboard.

"I didn't even notice the score was 19-0," he said.

Villanova was rolling, and if a game can be over in the opening 5 minutes, this was the one.

The second-ranked Villanova scored the first 19 points and cruised toward its fourth straight trip in the Big East Tournament championship game in an 87-68 win over Butler on Friday night.

About 30 minutes after top-seeded Xavier was upset by Providence in overtime, the Wildcats (29-4) hit the court and showed how a favorite should play in a tournament semifinal.

Mikal Bridges hit a 3-pointer five seconds into the game and the Wildcats used near-perfect execution on a 16-0 run before Butler coach LaVall Jordan finally called a timeout at the 15:37 mark. He could have waved a white flag to signal for the TO.

Omari Spellman buried a 3 to make it 19-0 and the Wildcats proved why the Big East tournament title always goes through the Main Line and straight to Madison Square Garden. Butler finally scored and heard some mock cheers for the jumper.

"Spot a team like that 16, 19 points, it's going to be really, really tough to dig out," Jordan said.

The Bulldogs failed to find an offensive excavator.

Hey, at least the Bulldogs (20-13) were only down 17 after their first bucket.

Butler called a 30-second timeout with 11:35 left in the second half and trailed by 25 points. Yes, this was a tournament semifinal game.

The Wildcats hit 10 of their first 12 shots that made for an anticlimactic final 35 minutes at the Garden. Providence had rallied from a 17-point second-half deficit and stunned top-seeded and No. 3 Xavier 75-72 in the first conference semifinal that had MSG rocking.

This seemed like a tune-up for a coronation.

Bridges had 18, Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson scored 17 points and Spellman had 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Under coach Jay Wright, Villanova won the tournament in 2015 and 2017 and lost to Seton Hall in 2016. The four straight Big East title games are one shy of Syracuse's record five straight from 1986-1990.

"I think we feel like we're a new team rather than a team that's stale at the end of the year," Wright said.

The Wildcats did split two games against Providence but the Friars are coming off overtime games on consecutive nights and will be a heavy underdog.

Villanova vs. Xavier -- the No. 2 and 3 teams in the AP Top 25 -- had been an anticipated final. The Wildcats lost the outright regular-season title even though it beat the Musketeers twice.

The sixth-seeded Bulldogs stunned third-seeded Seton Hall 75-74 for its first career Big East Tournament victory and a win over the Wildcats on Dec. 30 made it seem like this should have been competitive.

Instead, Kelan Martin, who averaged 21.1 points, scored just four for the Bulldogs in the first half. He finished with 12.

"They had a great game plan for me. Sometimes, you just can't beat it," Martin said.

The Wildcats improved to 14-0 when holding opponents under 70 points.

"That was one of our best defensive performances," Wright said.

The Wildcats hit six 3s, including Booth's at the buzzer, to send them into the break ahead 44-25. Told Villanova could put probably four 3-point shooters on the court, Jordan cracked, "seemed like six."

Big picture
Butler: The Bulldogs are still in good shape for an NCAA Tournament bid and should be in the mix for No. 8 or No. 9 seed. Butler has lost three of four games.

"We'll be fine," Martin said. "We've got something to play for."

Villanova: The Wildcats have won six of seven games and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats have won 10 of 11 Big East Tournament games.

Up next
Butler: Butler waits to find out its NCAA Tournament fate

Villanova: The Wildcats beat the Friars 89-69 on Jan. 23 and lost at Providence 76-71 on Feb. 14.