Villanova Wildcats

Villanova slips as mammoth showdown looms

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Villanova slips as mammoth showdown looms

Jay Wright's Villanova squad is feeling something unfamiliar out on the Main Line on this cloudy Monday.

Yes, the stunning loss to St. John's this past Wednesday is still stinging. Yes, finally conquering the Butler demons is still sinking in. But those aren't it.

For the first time in five weeks, the Wildcats aren't sitting pretty atop the AP poll.

The loss to the Red Storm, which was previously winless in the Big East, pushed the 23-2 Wildcats down to No. 3 in this week's poll.

Virginia, despite a home loss to unranked Virginia Tech on Saturday night, moved up to No. 1 for the first time since 1982. Michigan State, on the strength of a win over then No. 3 Purdue, moved up to No. 2.

Fellow Big East foe Xavier checks in at No. 4 and Cincinnati moved up to No. 5.

Villanova hits the road to Providence on Wednesday night and then heads to Cincy to for a mammoth matchup with 23-3 Xavier on Saturday afternoon at 4:30. As of Monday morning, the Musketeers actually have an edge on the Wildcats for the top seed in the Big East tournament as Xavier has an 11-2 conference record compared to Villanova's 10-2 conference record. Xavier hosts Seton Hall on Wednesday night before the Wildcats come to town.

All the while, Villanova will remain shorthanded without redshirt junior Phil Booth and junior Eric Paschall. Booth is out several more weeks with a broken hand that has yet to be removed from a cast. Paschall is out indefinitely with a concussion and Wright did not sound optimistic at all after Saturday's win over Butler that Paschall would be ready to go at any point this week.

Both Booth, who averages 11.3 points per game, and Paschall, who averages 10.1 points per game, were in the lineup when the 'Cats ran the Musketeers out of the Wells Fargo Center with an 89-65 beatdown in January.

To make Saturday's game even more juicy, both Villanova and Xavier were pegged as top seeds by the NCAA Tournament selection committee in its first rankings of the season, which were released on Sunday. Villanova was the No. 2 overall seed and the top seed in the East Region while Xavier was the No. 3 overall seed and top seed in the Midwest Region.

So, needless to say, there's just a little bit riding on Saturday's showdown.

Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

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Villanova has 1 big advantage in NCAA Tournament pressure cooker

VILLANOVA, Pa. — There were many reasons why Villanova was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And many more for why it's one of just two top seeds still standing.

The Wildcats do a lot of things well. They have depth, they can shoot from three, they defend, they are well-coached and they play hard. But perhaps their greatest attribute isn’t physical or psychological.

It’s experience. 

Of 'Nova’s core six, five were on the national championship team two seasons ago. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth played key roles on that squad. Donte DiVincenzo (injured) and Eric Paschall (transfer) were on the team but did not play. Having players that talented and that seasoned can’t be quantified. Not to mention a coaching staff still in tact from that title team. 

Between that run in 2015-16 and playing one of the toughest schedules in the country in a battle-tested Big East conference, there is nothing this group has not seen.

“Obviously the playing experience is most important but having coaches who have been in it," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Monday. "Having guys like Donte, Eric, who were sitting out, be a part of that '16 run — that’s important, too. They learned a lot, they picked up a lot. To be able to share that experience with the young guys, I think that helps this team a lot.”

DiVincenzo agreed with his coach's sentiment.

“We’ve seen the biggest stage," the redshirt sophomore guard said. "Although myself and Eric were not playing, we were there and witnessed it and we know what it takes not only to win it but to get there.”

Next up for Villanova is the Sweet 16 and fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday night in Boston. The Mountaineers begin guarding you in the parking lot. It is a 90-foot torture test of relentless pressure, end to end. A brutal matchup for any team.

But rest assured, Villanova will be prepared and won’t be overwhelmed. 

“No matter what the stage is, we don’t care," Bridges said. "You can put us anywhere, we’re going to play the same game. We tell the young guys, 'Don’t think of it as the Sweet 16, think of it as the next game.'"

It may be more than just the next game.

But the moment won’t be too big for this bunch that’s seen it all.

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

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How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama


PITTSBURGH — Mikal Bridges hit five 3s, scored 23 points and helped No. 1 seed Villanova put the field on notice that it's the team to beat with an 81-58 win over ninth-seeded Alabama on Saturday.

The Wildcats (32-4) are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since they won the 2016 national championship. Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth -- and yes, The Big Ragu -- look every bit the favorite to make it two in three years.

Villanova plays Friday in Boston against the Marshall-West Virginia winner.

The sport is still buzzing from top-seeded Virginia's 20-point loss to 16th-seeded UMBC on Friday night.

Alabama (20-16) failed to make it two No. 1s KO'd in less than 24 hours.

After a tense first half in a round that has given the program fits, the Wildcats hit their first six 3s in the second and put on a thrashing up there among the most dominant under coach Jay Wright.

Bridges, who averaged 17.9 points and played his way into a likely NBA draft lottery pick, scored 1 point and missed all five shots in the first half. He found his groove once the second half tipped. Bridges scored the first 5 points of the half and then finished a thunderous alley-oop on a pass from Booth that made it 41-27 and sent the Wildcats wildly waving their arms in celebration headed into a timeout.

Bridges hit his first three 3s in succession to cap an 18-1 run and a Sweet 16 berth was in sight.

Brunson added a 3 to make it 56-31 and the rest of the half was simply a countdown to Boston. Villanova made 17 of 41 3s.

The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Villanova got a brief scare that it might add `18 to the list against Alabama.

The Wildcats live-and-die by the 3-pointer -- they say, "shoot em' up and sleep in the streets" -- and when it's on, look out. The Wildcats are as dangerous as any team in the nation.

When it's off, well, that's how they're so upset-prone in March. They missed eight of their first 11 3s in the first half and Alabama briefly grabbed the lead.

Donte DiVincenzo steadied Villanova with three straight 3s that brought a gasp from the crowd and gave the Wildcats a 22-15 lead. He threw in a fastbreak layup off his own steal and hit his fifth 3 of the half to make it 32-27.

DiVincenzo -- the redheaded guard nicknamed "The Big Ragu" -- scored all 18 of his points in the half. Villanova attempted 20 3s (made seven) out of 27 shots.