Villanova Wildcats

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

Printable bracket with game times

East Region | West Region | Midwest Region | South Region

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jay Wright started shaking his head before the question was even finished.

"Isn't it unfair for you guys to have to face a team like Wisconsin in the second round?"

Everybody knows Wisconsin should have been seeded higher than No. 8. Everybody but the NCAA selection committee.

The Badgers were ranked as high as seventh in the country as late as mid-February, they won 25 games in a highly-regarded conference, they beat three ranked teams and they have a roster loaded with experienced veterans of three Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.

They could have been a five seed, like Minnesota, which Wisconsin beat twice and won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They could have been a six seed, like Maryland, which Wisconsin beat by 11 and also won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They should not have been a No. 8 seed. Should not have been Villanova's opponent Saturday in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32.

After earning the overall No. 1 seed, Villanova's reward was a second-round meeting with an opponent with tremendous depth and experience.

After Villanova lost, 65-62, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, Wright was asked several times about the seeming unfairness of it all.

"I don't think there should be anything negative about this tournament, especially from the players and coaches," Wright said. "It's a tourney, they make the bracket. Our job is to go play.

"You want to play great teams. You want to go to the tournament and play great teams and beat all the best. I think (you can't) worry about where you get knocked out. … I just worry about how our guys play and I was proud of how our guys played.

"We could have played better, but proud of how well they stuck together. We love this tournament. We love being in it. I'll take being in it every year, give us whoever you want. Give us a 1 seed, I don't care. We love being in it."

But the reality is that Villanova has now lost as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed four times in the last eight years to opponents seeded No. 7 or No. 8.

According to Sports-Reference's NCAA Tournament Game Finder, No. 1 and 2 seeds are 255-52 against opponents seeded No. 7 or lower since 2001, when Wright became head coach at Villanova.

But Villanova and Kansas are the only schools that have lost four times as a No. 1 or 2 seed against an opponent seeded seventh or lower.

And it's now happened to Villanova three times in the last four years. It's only happened to every other school combined 10 times the last four years.

Three years ago, very similarly, Villanova lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 UConn on the same court. UConn went on to win the national title.

"This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country," Wright said. "You know, just being in it, I say this every year to our team, we can't take it for granted. It's so special to be a part of it.

"Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You're playing the best teams in the country. You're going to come down to games like this, you know? We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out on the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State (in 2015), and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.

"To me, there's no dishonor in losing in this tournament but I do know that -- and we've lived through it -- you are judged by how you play in this tournament and that's the reality of it. So you have to accept it."

It's only fair that part of the legacy of this senior class -- Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds -- is that they were eliminated early in three of their four years.

Their 129 wins are 10th-most in NCAA Division 1 history over a four-year span, and of course their national championship last year is what will be remembered the most.

But three early exits from the tournament do have to be considered alongside the celebration in Houston, the parade down Market Street and meeting President Obama.

Hard to believe, but Villanova has only reached one Sweet 16 in the last eight years after reaching four the previous five years. It's just that the one Sweet 16 turned into a national title.

"It's the reality of this tournament and it's great lesson in life," Wright said. "When you're getting a lot of accolades, you're going to get some heat too.

"Everything in life is a balance, man, and you've got to be prepared for it, and when you're getting all the accolades and you're a No. 1 seed you know you're going to win it or you're going to be crushed, it's part of life, and it's a great lesson for those guys."

In the end, this Villanova team didn't shoot as well as last year, didn't have nearly the post presence of last year, didn't make clutch foul shots like last year and certainly didn't have the depth of last year.

And it all caught up to the Wildcats in the final few minutes Saturday afternoon, when a seven-point lead turned into a three-point loss.

But in a way, what Villanova did with just seven players -- only three who were really offensive threats by the end of the season -- won 32 games and both the Big East regular-season title and Big East Tournament.

"I'm most proud of the team that we became after losing Omari (Spellman) and Phil (Booth) and Tim Delaney, we lost Tim for the year as well," Wright said in the hallway outside the Villanova locker room Saturday evening.

"When that happened we figured, 'Let’s see how good we can be.' And we became a hell of a team. But not good enough to get past this Wisconsin team. But still a hell of a team. But not a national champion.

"And I thought we had a chance. It's such a fine line between being a national champion and losing at any point in this tournament. That's a hell of a team. That team could go to the Final Four. They've got Final Four experience.

"I know we get judged on how far we get, and that’s fair, I get it. But on the inside, we look at it like this: 'We played a great team, we played great, we didn't get it done. We're OK, we're OK.'

"Not right now, we're not. We're disappointed. We're going to hurt for a while, till the tournament's over. That's how long we'll hurt."

No. 5 Villanova steamrolls Lafayette behind Mikal Bridges' career night

ap-villanova-mikal-bridges.jpg
AP Images

No. 5 Villanova steamrolls Lafayette behind Mikal Bridges' career night

BOX SCORE

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon planned to switch defenses often in hopes of slowing down No. 5 Villanova.

It ended up not mattering what the Leopards did, not with the Wildcats shooting like this.

Mikal Bridges set a school record by hitting all six of his 3-point shots and scored a career-high 24 points in Villanova's 104-57 rout Friday night.

Jalen Brunson added 22 points and hit 4 of 6 3s in another dominant performance by the Wildcats (3-0), who made 16 of 30 from long range.

"I don't know if you shoot that way if you shoot with nobody in the gym," O'Hanlon said. "And they didn't hit the rim. They were all swishes. I don't think they knew what defense we were in."

Three nights after setting a school record with 13 blocked shots in a blowout of Nicholls, the versatile and deep Wildcats showed another strength and overwhelmed the Leopards (0-3).

Led by Bridges' 4-of-4 long-distance shooting, Villanova hit 11 of its first 14 3s in racing to a 39-16 lead. The Wildcats had a stretch of nine straight baskets being 3s en route to a 56-23 halftime lead.

"Early you start thinking, if we fall in love with that and now we're not making them, we're going to be in trouble," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "But we kept making them. Then you've got a big lead and the basket looks huge."

Bridges finished 9 of 10 from the field before he sat out the final 10 minutes. The junior bested his previous career-high by one point set Tuesday.

"He's never lacked confidence, but he's always played a complementary role and he's always fine with that," Wright said. "I think he's really confident that it's his time to be a leader on this team and be a really aggressive player."

Matt Klinewski had 16 points and six rebounds for Lafayette, which was 7 of 29 from 3-point range.

While it was a Villanova home game, it was played about 50 miles from campus at the PPL Center, home of minor league hockey's Lehigh Valley Phantoms. It was a 20-mile drive for Lafayette, but the Wildcats sure seemed at home.

Villanova spent much of the second half going inside to score. Omari Spellman had 15 points and nine rebounds and Eric Paschall had 14 points and eight boards.

Bridges has made 18 of 29 shots in three games and the Wildcats have eclipsed 100 points two straight times.

"My teammates are finding me in the right spot," Bridges said. "A lot of them have wide open shots and give me an extra pass. That's what we do and that's why I'm scoring."

Big picture
Lafayette: Try as a Patriot League school squaring off against one of the best teams in the nation and watching the opponent hit 9 of their first 11 3s, Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon's alma mater never had a chance.

Villanova: The Wildcats have perimeter shooting, depth inside and play good defense. They've been dominant against inferior competition, and will finally get tested next week.

So many 3-pointers
Bridges surpassed Doug West in 1988 and John Celestand in 1999, each of whom went 5 of 5 from long range. Villanova finished one shy of the school record of 17 3s set against Lehigh on Nov. 27, 2005.

No luck
O'Hanlon fell to 0-6 against his alma mater. He still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game with 16 set against Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970.

Only six Division I coaches have been at their schools longer than O'Hanlon, in his 23rd season.

Up next
Lafayette visits Princeton on Wednesday.

Villanova faces Western Kentucky on Wednesday in the first of three games at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas. No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona are possible opponents the following two days.

No. 5 Villanova sets school record for blocks in rout of Nicholls

ap-villanova-mikal-bridges.jpg
AP Images

No. 5 Villanova sets school record for blocks in rout of Nicholls

BOX SCORE

Mikal Bridges rejected consecutive shots by Roddy Peters in the lane, producing "oohs" from the crowd.

And No. 5 Villanova wasn't done, not even on this possession.

Omari Spellman brought the fans and bench players to their feet by swatting Tevon Saddler's follow attempt from behind, giving the Wildcats three blocks in 8 seconds and setting the tone in a record-setting 113-77 rout of Nicholls on Tuesday night.

"That's what we should be fired up about," Bridges said. "defensive things, not offensive."

Bridges set career highs with 23 points, four blocks and five steals, and Villanova (2-0) set a school record by blocking 13 shots. Spellman also had four rejections.

"We have the potential to be a very good defensive team," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "I think you saw some of that tonight. It was more athleticism tonight than defensive technique."

Donte DiVincenzo added 20 points, Jalen Brunson had 17 and the Wildcats had six players in double figures while shooting 58 percent from the field in their second straight blowout of an inferior opponent.

"I can't imagine many teams in the country being better than them," Nicholls coach Richie Riley said. "I think they have a chance to hang another banner. I think they're that good."

Zaquavian Smith scored 25 points and Peters had 17 for the Colonels (1-1), who trailed by as many as 38 points.

Villanova, which cruised past Columbia 75-60 on Friday, raced to a 22-9 lead and was never threatened. Bridges shot 4 of 7 from 3-point range and the Wildcats were 13 of 30 from behind the arc.

That's an improvement from the 7-of-32 long-distance shooting in the opener.

"A lot of extra passes," Wright said.

The Colonels, picked to finish 10th out of 13 teams in the Southland Conference, entered as a 32-point underdog and were quickly overwhelmed in the schools' first meeting.

With just over 8 minutes remaining in the first half, Nicholls had more turnovers (7) than field goals (5).

Shortly after the three quick blocks, Villanova led 35-11.

"When you play in games like this and you're a school like us, sometimes you get out there and you really want to do well so bad that you put yourself in a tough (situation)," Riley said. "Our guys over-penetrated and over-drove the ball and they made plays at the rim."

Big picture
Nicholls: Hours after Jay Clune was appointed Nicholls' new president, the basketball team collected a check to bring back to Thibodaux, Louisiana. But Riley's transfer-dominated team needs work to end a 19-year NCAA Tournament drought.

Villanova: Plenty of highlight dunks and impressive blocks in two easy wins to start the season. The Wildcats have a lot of weapons, but have yet to be tested.

Rejected
The Wildcats' previous team record was 12 blocks, done four times and most recently against Delaware in the 2000 NIT. The individual mark is 10 blocks by Harold Pressley against Providence on Jan. 11, 1986.

Defense MIA
Nicholls ranked 335th out of 351 teams last season by allowing 82.1 points a game. And while they won their opener 111-106 over Texas-Rio Grande Valley, they couldn't outshoot Villanova.

The Wildcats scored at will for much of the night, getting good looks inside and open 3s from the perimeter. The Colonels tried to push the pace, but they finished with 17 turnovers and drives to the rim often ended with a blocked shot.

Up next
Nicholls has its home opener Friday against Division II Spring Hill (Ala.).

Villanova faces Lafayette in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on Friday before traveling to the Bahamas for three games in the Battle for Atlantis next week. The Wildcats could play No. 19 Purdue and No. 3 Arizona in the last two rounds.