Villanova Wildcats

Why Villanova will cut down the nets at MSG

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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.      

Prediction
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.  

Villanova's X-factors, chances at history in 2019 NCAA Tournament

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Villanova's X-factors, chances at history in 2019 NCAA Tournament

The NCAA Tournament tips off Tuesday night with the start of the First Four in Dayton. There are a couple prominent Big 5 storylines as college basketball takes center stage for the next three weeks. Namely, Villanova is trying to do something that hasn't been done in 44 years: win three national championships in the span of four years.

Then there's Temple's Fran Dunphy coaching in his 17th and final NCAA Tournament before stepping down at the end of the season.

Here's a breakdown of what lies ahead for the local teams.

Can Villanova make history?

The Wildcats are back in the NCAA Tournament for the 14th time in the last 15 years under Jay Wright. They arrive with plenty of momentum after winning their third straight Big East Tournament last week at Madison Square Garden. Villanova is riding a ridiculous wave of postseason success — since the 2016 season, the Wildcats have a 26-2 record in Big East and NCAA Tournament competition.

Now they set out to win a third national championship in the last four years. That hasn't been done since the UCLA dynasty in the mid-1970s.

Villanova is flying under the radar compared to previous years in terms of contending for a national title. The Wildcats are the 6-seed in the South Region and will play St. Mary's on Thursday night in Hartford, CT. St. Mary's comes into play with a 22-11 record after a shocking win over then-No. 1 Gonzaga in the WCC championship game last week.

Villanova is battle-tested and has one of the premiere coaches in the country. The Wildcats are led by two terrific seniors in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, two guys with tons of NCAA Tournament experience. Those are the positives.

The biggest negative? Villanova's lack of depth. Wright's rotation essentially shrunk to six players during the Big East Tournament.

Sophomore Jermaine Samuels and freshman Saddiq Bey are the X-factors. Both Samuels and Bey have had their moments this season and were critical to Villanova's success last week. If Samuels and Bey can step up to complement Booth and Paschall, the Wildcats will be a tough out in the NCAA Tournament.

Fran Dunphy's last stand

Dunphy has pretty much done it all during a remarkable career. A standout player at La Salle, he received a master's degree from Villanova and has served as the head coach at both Penn and Temple. His "Mr. Big 5" nickname is well deserved.

He had tremendous success during his 17 seasons at Penn, winning nine Ivy League titles and going to nine NCAA Tournaments. Dunphy carried that success over to Temple, winning three straight Atlantic 10 Tournaments from 2008 to 2010. He has led the Owls to eight NCAA Tournaments during his 13 seasons as head coach.

The one thing missing from Dunphy's resume is success on the sport's biggest stage. He has a 3-16 career record in the NCAA Tournament. Dunphy's Owls will try to improve that record on Tuesday night against a Belmont team that won 26 games this season.

Dunphy is a great coach, terrific man and has been a wonderful ambassador for college basketball. It would be a great story if Temple sends him out with a nice run in this NCAA Tournament.

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.