Villanova Wildcats

Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

USA Today Images

Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

The Big East Tournament tipped off Wednesday and runs through Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. If recent history is any indication, Villanova will be there for the duration. The Wildcats have played in the Big East championship game in each of the last three seasons. 

Villanova's story
Villanova has won the Big East Tournament two of the last three years, with the exception coming in 2016 when it lost to Seton Hall in the final seconds of the title game. The Wildcats moved past that setback and won their next six games in the NCAA Tournament on the way to a national championship.

Jay Wright's team arrives in Manhattan in an unfamiliar position this year — as the No. 2 seed. Villanova was the top seed in the Big East Tournament in each of the previous four seasons but Xavier carries that distinction this week. 

Despite not winning the Big East regular-season championship, the Wildcats are still in good shape to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to their 27-4 record. Just getting to the Big East title game should be enough to keep Villanova on the top line come Selection Sunday. 

Villanova's path
The Wildcats will play Marquette on Thursday night in the quarterfinals. Villanova swept the Golden Eagles in the regular season, winning, 100-90, in early January at the Wells Fargo Center before escaping with a 85-82 win at Marquette three weeks later. 

Marquette has no trouble scoring — it averages 82 points per game. The Golden Eagles are led by their sharpshooting backcourt duo of Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey, two guys capable of scoring 30 points on any given night. Expect the tempo to be fast and furious when Villanova and Marquette hook up in the quarterfinals.

If the Wildcats get past Marquette, they'll face either Seton Hall or Butler in the semifinals. Xavier looms as their most likely opponent in the championship game.

Player to watch
I could take the easy way out and go with the newly-minted Big East Player of the Year Jalen Brunson or the red-hot Mikal Bridges, but keep an eye on Donte DiVincenzo. The reason is simple — he loves Madison Square Garden. DiVincenzo made six three-pointers and scored 25 points in Villanova's win over St. John's back in January. Last year as a freshman, he scored 19 points at St. John's in the regular season and 25 points against the Red Storm in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament.      

Villanova will cut down the nets for the third time in the last four years. The Wildcats will use a little extra motivation from not winning the Big East regular-season championship to get it done. Villanova-Xavier is the title game everyone wants to see and I think we'll get it. Look for the Wildcats to record a third win over the Musketeers this season and enter the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 seed in the East Region.  

How Sweet it is — 'Nova crushes Alabama

USA Today Images

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.

Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament

USA Today Images

Villanova romps past Radford in 1st round of NCAA Tournament


PITTSBURGH — The fear naturally seeps into the thinking of players on top-seeded teams in the NCAA Tournament. Could we be the ones that finally lose to a 16 seed?

"I can't say it doesn't cross our mind at all," Big East player of the year Jalen Brunson said.

The answer from Villanova was an emphatic one: not a chance.

Brunson scored 16 points and No. 1 seed Villanova hit 14 3-pointers in an 87-61 romp over Radford in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night.

The Highlanders (23-13) posed no threat at becoming the first 16 seed to ever knock off a No. 1 in the tournament.

Villanova (31-4) played to near-perfection for the first 30 minutes and everyone played a role. Mikal Bridges had 13 points, Eric Paschall scored 11 and Omari Spellman had 10 points and seven rebounds.

The Wildcats play on Saturday against the winner of Virginia Tech-Alabama.

Radford, out of rural southwest Virginia, must have felt like it was playing against ace pop-a-shot players. Villanova led 69-37 with 11:45 left and was shooting 75 percent (25 of 34) overall and 60 percent (12 of 20) from 3-point range.

The Wildcats turned an NCAA Tournament game into a glorified scrimmage.

Villanova coach Jay Wright was a bit wary of what could happen when he watched Penn give No. 1 seed Kansas a brief scare earlier in the day.

"We're watching Penn, because my daughter goes to Penn. My wife's rooting like crazy for Penn," he said. "I said, `You're rooting for Penn. If that happens, my boy, (KU coach) Bill Self, will be dying.' But you do, you think about it. What you have to do when you're the 1 (seed) is do everything to fight off that distraction."

Radford's Christian Bradford opened the game with a 3-pointer and the bench erupted.

The players should hope someone snapped a photo of the scoreboard as a souvenir for the one time the Highlanders led Villanova in this game.

The rest of the half was pure dominance by the Wildcats.

At one point, Brunson had 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting. Radford? Just 10 points on 4 of 20 from the floor.

Villanova started the game shooting 13 of 16. For those who struggle with math, that's a crisp 81 percent.

Phil Booth, Bridges, Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo all hit 3s in succession to blow open the game. Even when the Wildcats put the ball on the floor, they embarrassed Radford — Collin Gillespie juked guard Donald Hicks about out of his sneakers and the Highlander fell right on his behind.

Hicks led Radford with 13 points.

"They are a No. 1 seed for a reason. But this team right here is special," Bradford said. "We're a championship team for a reason. We never thought in our mind that we couldn't come back."

Radford won a First Four game to advance to Pittsburgh. The Wildcats just won the Big East Tournament in New York. With more shooting performances like this one, they'll win much, much more in March.

Big picture
Radford: The Highlanders still had a successful season. They set a school record for wins and won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in program history. Radford was picked to finish seventh in the Big South preseason poll but earned the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. Carlik Jones and Ed Polite are freshmen and should keep the good times going next season.

Villanova: Will try to avoid another first-weekend upset. The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017. They lost to NC State in the second round in 2015 in Pittsburgh in a game that spawned the birth of the sad Villanova band member nicknamed Piccolo Girl .

Time’s up
Paschall led the Wildcats with 29 minutes played. Wright pulled his starters and his top subs off the bench much earlier than usual to give them some needed rest. Brunson took a charge late in the game and, though Wright admired the guard's toughness, he wouldn't play much longer.

Totally Rad
Coach Mike Jones brought his team toward the Radford cheering section and waved and pointed toward the fans in appreciation.

"They didn't get a chance to cheer victory but at least they got a chance to cheer these young men," Jones said. "They got a great group of young men. Through the tournament, people got to learn a little bit more about them, but we got to be with them every day."

Up next
Radford goes home and the Wildcats try and knock off Virginia Tech (21-11) or Alabama (19-15) and advance again to the Sweet 16.