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NCAA Tournament: Villanova draws Saint Mary's in South Region matchup

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NCAA Tournament: Villanova draws Saint Mary's in South Region matchup

East Region | West Region |South RegionMidwest Region 

Printable bracket with game times  

Nothing will ever erase Virginia's history as the first men's No. 1 seed to lose its NCAA Tournament opener.

At least now the Cavaliers' wait for the chance to make up for that unprecedented loss is nearly over.

The Cavaliers are the second overall No. 1 seed and back in the South Region bracket after losing to the University of Maryland-Baltimore County — better known as UMBC — a year ago. Virginia lost 74-54 to UMBC, becoming the first men's No. 1 seed ever to lose to a 16 seed.

Virginia (29-3) will play an NCAA Tournament newcomer in Gardner-Webb (23-11) of the Big South Conference on Friday in Columbia, South Carolina. Coach Tony Bennett said his Cavaliers know what they have to do to be successful.

"We also realize that we're susceptible as every team is in this tournament and sometimes that's as valuable to know instead of thinking you're invincible," Bennett said Friday of the NCAA Tournament. "So if we play well, hopefully we can go 1-0 and then we'll address the next one."

This is the seventh time Virginia has been a No. 1 seed and the fourth time in six seasons, though the Cavaliers still are looking to reach their first Final Four with Bennett and first since 1984.

Second-ranked Virginia had been in the running to be the top overall seed after winning a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title only to lose 69-59 to No. 12 Florida State in the ACC tournament semifinals. The Cavaliers' only other losses this season were to Duke, the overall No. 1 seed.

They go into this tournament ranked first in the KenPom.com overall ratings, second in adjusted offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions) and fifth in adjusted defensive efficiency.

Reaching the Final Four in Minneapolis won't be easy. The Cavaliers find themselves in a bracket with Tennessee, which was the nation's top-ranked team for nearly a month with the Vols hoping for a No. 1 seed until being routed in the Southeastern Conference tournament final Sunday. The No. 2 seed Vols open Friday in Columbus, Ohio, against Colgate (24-10).

The Wisconsin Badgers, who reached the Final Four in 2014 and 2015, are a possible regional semifinal opponent in Louisville, Kentucky, on March 28. There's also Villanova and Cincinnati, which just beat No. 11 Houston for the American Athletic Conference tournament title just before the brackets were released.

Here are things to know about the South Region:

Shadow of Sister Jean: The Tennessee Volunteers (29-5) can sympathize with Virginia's pain over an early NCAA Tournament loss. The Vols earned their first berth since 2014 only to lose in the second round last year, 63-62 to Loyola-Chicago with famous fan Sister Jean watching. The Vols' only losses this season have been to ranked opponents: Kansas, Kentucky, LSU and Auburn (twice).

Now they play Colgate, the Patriot League tournament champ. The Raiders are 2-0 all-time against Tennessee and are making their first trip since 1996, when they had Adonal Foyle.

Defending champs: Villanova (25-9) will try to defend its title — and win its third championship in four years — as the sixth seed playing No. 11 seed Saint Mary's (22-11) on Thursday in Hartford, Connecticut. The Big East champs haven't been seeded this low since 2013. Their opener will be a rematch of 2010 when Saint Mary's upset the then-No. 2 seed Wildcats.

Injury watch: Kansas State (25-8) is hoping to have senior forward Dean Wade back for the fourth-seeded Wildcats' opener Friday in San Jose against UC Irvine (30-5). Wade missed both games at the Big 12 Tournament, and he was still wearing a walking boot on his right foot Sunday when the bracket was announced. Wade is their second-leading scorer, averaging 12.9 points a game.

Home sweet home: Cincinnati might not be happy being seeded seventh. But the Bearcats (28-6) only have to travel about 100 miles to Columbus to play No. 10 seed Iowa (22-11) with a possible second-round game against Tennessee.

The rest of the bracket: Third-seeded Purdue (23-9) plays No. 14 seed Old Dominion (26-8) in Hartford on Thursday, and No. 8 seed Ole Miss (20-12) meets nine-seed Oklahoma (19-13) on Friday in Columbia. No. 5 seed Wisconsin (23-10) meets 12th-seeded Oregon (23-12) on Friday in San Jose, with the Ducks having just won four games in as many days for the Pac-12 tournament title.

Path to Minneapolis: The bracket goes through Louisville's KFC Yum! Arena for the regional rounds on March 28 and March 30.

Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

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Jay Wright weighs in on major Villanova storylines at season's midpoint

Villanova arrives at the unofficial midpoint of the season with a 12-3 overall record and a 3-1 mark in the Big East. The Wildcats have 16 regular-season games remaining, then it’s on to the Big East Tournament and what they hope will be their 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 16 years. 

I sat down with Villanova head coach Jay Wright for an exclusive conversation about the major storylines concerning his team as they gear up for the stretch run. 

The Big East grind

Villanova has dominated the Big East since the conference was reconfigured prior to the 2013-14 season. The Wildcats won the regular season championship five of the last six seasons and the conference tournament four of the last five years. 

They’ll have their work cut out for them continuing that run of dominance this year. The Big East is one of the toughest conferences top to bottom in the country.

With a 3-1 record in conference play, Villanova is currently looking up at both Seton Hall (4-0) and Butler (3-0) in the league standings. The road ahead is daunting — there aren’t any guaranteed wins on the Big East schedule. 

Wright’s Take: “You can look at any conference in the country and there are certain schools in that conference where you say 'Well, they're a football school.' In our conference there are no football schools, everybody is a basketball school. This means the world to everybody at every university. So whoever is No. 10 (last place in the conference) it’s still the biggest thing on their calendar. When you go there it is a tough, tough game. 

This year, it’s a whole different level because everyone has proven in the non-conference schedule just how good they are. All the teams are going to need to have short memories. We were terrible against Marquette (on January 4th) but Marquette is really good. We played in front of 18,000 crazy, screaming fans. So you can't get down on yourself from that performance, you’ve got to come back and go to Creighton three days later and play in front of another 18,000 crazy screaming fans.”

Inconsistent shooting

Villanova has been at the forefront of the three-point movement in college basketball. Like a lot of teams, the Wildcats take a ton of three-point shots. What separated them from the pack in recent years was their ability to make those shots. They rode terrific three-point shooting to national championships in 2016 and 2018.

But this season has been different. Villanova is shooting a little over 34 percent as a team from long range, ranking in the lower half of the Big East. The Wildcats are still taking a lot of threes - their 418 attempts are second most in the conference. 

Inconsistent is the best word to describe Villanova’s shooting. The Wildcats shot 51 percent from three-point range in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. But their struggles were glaring in back-to-back games against Marquette and Creighton last week. The Wildcats combined to make just 15 of 71 three-point attempts in those games, a 21.1 shooting percentage.   

Wright’s Take: “We have a saying 'Shoot em up and sleep in the streets'. That means we're going to shoot. We're going to shoot first and be aggressive and some nights we're going to be really bad and no one is going to want us in their house and they're going to make us sleep in the streets. That's kind of what we’ve been doing lately. Then we're going to develop our good decision making after that. But we're not going to try to be good decision makers first and not shoot. So that's where we are right now, it's been ugly. We’ve been sleeping in the streets a lot. You ask if I’m happy with our decision making? No. Am I happy with where we are in terms of our commitment to learning those good decisions? Yes.”

Defensive attitude

‘Attitude’ is a word used quite a bit within the Villanova program. It applies to everything the Wildcats do but holds special meaning concerning their defense. 

While the offense has been spotty, their effort on the defensive end is rounding into form. The Wildcats held their last five opponents to an average of 62 points per game. 

Wright gives his players freedom on the offensive end provided they put forth the requisite effort defensively. This year’s group has been keeping up its end of the bargain.

Wright’s Take: “Our defense is starting to get there, we still have a lot of work to do. We're not consistent, we weren't great against Marquette (a 71-60 loss), we were really good against Creighton (a 64-59 win), we were really good against Kansas (a 56-55 win). But then you could see that slip against Marquette. I really like our attitude, I really like guys like Collin (Gillespie), Saddiq (Bey), Jermaine (Samuels) and Dhamir (Cosby-Roundtree) becoming leaders. They're not there yet, but they're becoming leaders. The younger guys are starting to keep their composure on the floor in road games. Nothing is consistent yet but I like the direction we're going.”

Gillespie's heavy lifting

With the departures of fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall last year, it was evident that Collin Gillespie would shoulder a heavy burden as a junior. 

He is the unquestioned leader of a roster devoid of any scholarship seniors. Gillespie’s play on the court has been excellent - he is Villanova’s second leading scorer and leads the team in assists and steals. 

The Archbishop Wood product is drawing rave reviews from his head coach.

Wright’s Take: “Collin is in a really tough spot. He has nobody around him with the experience that he has. He’s a third year guy, he's got this team on his shoulders. He's tough as nails, Northeast Philly tough, we love him. He has that Philadelphia Catholic League intelligence. I don’t know if the other guys on the team know what that is, but we do and we take great pride in it and so does he. 

He's got to be patient with these young guys, a combination of patient and demanding. But he's still got to perform. He's doing a great job of it. We don't lighten up on him, we just put more and more on him. We're really proud of how he's handling his leadership role as a junior.”

Antoine's progress

Bryan Antoine was the centerpiece of Wright’s star-studded 2019 recruiting class. He was a McDonald’s All-American and ranked as a Top 15 prospect by all of the top recruiting services. Antoine was expected to make an immediate impact at Villanova. 

That plan took a detour last spring when Antoine underwent major surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He wasn’t cleared for basketball activities until late November and missed the first three games of the season. 

Antoine has played in nine games, averaging a little more than seven minutes of playing time in those games. His progress is a storyline worth monitoring in the second half of the season. Can he develop into an x-factor in February and March?

Wright’s Take: “Brian was one of those guys that even if everything worked out perfect for him, he's 175 pounds, he was going to have come here and get stronger. He was going to have to learn the system, even if everything worked out perfect. The hype about him is warranted because in high school his quickness and athleticism were off the charts and he played on a great team. Now he's playing where his (lack of) strength right now is a weakness for him.

And you add to that the fact that he didn't play basketball since his last high school game. He missed the whole summer, the whole preseason. So he's learning what we do, which would have been difficult even if he was here from day one.  

We are thrilled with where he is. We think he has an incredible future here. I know everybody else wants this quick fix and they want to see this excitement right away. But you have to be patient with him. Just to be fair to him, you just have to give him some time.”

No. 10 Villanova upset by Markus Howard, Marquette

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No. 10 Villanova upset by Markus Howard, Marquette

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE — Markus Howard scored 29 points and Marquette started the New Year with a 71-60 upset of 10th-ranked Villanova on Saturday.

Howard, who entered the day as the nation's top scorer at more than 25 points a game, added eight rebounds before fouling out to lead the Golden Eagles (10-3, 1-1 Big East).

Cole Swider and Justin Moore each had 14 points for Villanova (10-2, 1-1), which had won its last six games.

The difference came at the foul line — Marquette made 26 of 30, Villanova 3 of 5. The Golden Eagles also had seven blocks — four by Theo John.

Marquette shot more than 55% from the field in the first half and was 13-for-13 from the line before the break. Marquette led by as many as 20 before holding a 46-30 advantage at halftime.

Howard scored 12 points in the first seven minutes and finished the first half with 17. Howard and Koby McEwen combined for 30 of the Marquette's 46 first-half points. McEwen finished with 22.

Swider kept the Wildcats respectable early. The sophomore forward hit all four of his 3s in the first half and had12 points at intermission.

Big picture

After losing to Creighton 92-75 in its conference opener, the Golden Eagles picked up a big victory at home and have now won six of their last seven games.

Villanova, which has won two of the last four national championships, now must quickly pick up the pieces after getting dominated on the road.

Up next

Villanova: Plays at Creighton on Tuesday.

Marquette: Hosts Providence on Tuesday.