Villanova’s path to repeat as NCAA national champion is finally set. The Wildcats will face No. 16 seed winner of the play-in game between Mt. St. Mary’s and New Orleans in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. Tipoff will be at 7:10 p.m. on CBS.
The Wildcats earned the top overall seed in the tournament, but were rewarded by getting Duke, Baylor and Florida in their region. Villanova joins Kansas, North Carolina and Gonzaga as the No. 1 seeds in this year’s tournament. Duke, Louisville, Kentucky and Arizona are the No. 2 seeds.
Villanova enters the NCAA Tournament at 31-3 on the season, with a perfect 8-0 record in neutral site games after capping Saturday’s Big East championship with a resounding win over Creighton.
Nova started the season 14-0 before losing at Big East rival Butler in early January. They lost a two-point game at Marquette in late January before faltering again to Butler in late February at the Pavilion. Since that loss, however, Nova has rolled, winning five-straight games — including three in the Big East tournament — to secure both the regular season and conference tourney titles. As good as last year’s title team was, they failed to accomplish the conference double. This year’s team enters the NCAAs on a roll.
Nova won four of their last five games by double figures, ending the regular season with a 16-point win over nationally-ranked Creighton before crushing rival Georgetown by 26 points on the road.
The Big East tournament started in a flash for the Cats, who beat St. John’s 108-67, the most points the school has ever scored in a Big East tournament game. After surviving a scare in the 55-53 semifinal squeaker over Seton Hall, the Wildcats beat up on the Blue Jays in the Big East championship game, winning 74-60 on Saturday night.
After Saturday’s game, senior forward Darryl Reynolds echoed the ethos that head coach Jay Wright has been preaching all season long.
“We were the champions last year.” Reynolds told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello. “This year, if we won again, that’s two different trophies. Nobody can take what we did last year from us. You can move forward and free your mind and realize that last year was last year. We gotta take care of business this year.”
This year’s Final Four is at University of Phoenix Stadium, and in order for Nova to get back to the Final Four again this season, they’ll have to take care of business in Buffalo, then head back to Madison Square Garden to take care of business in the East Regional.
This season, the Wildcats are 4-0 at MSG, winning thrice in the conference tournament and once against St. John’s in the regular season. In the last four seasons, this Villanova senior class is a combined 13-2 at Madison Square Garden.
Villanova could face Wisconsin or Virginia Tech in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, with the potential match-ups against No. 4 seed Florida or No. 5 seed Virginia in the East Regional semifinals the following week. Should chalk hold, Villanova could then face No. 2 seed Duke or No. 3 Baylor for the right to get back to the Final Four. Yes, Duke is the No. 2 in Villanova’s region. This is fine. ?????.
This is just the third time Villanova has entered the tournament as a No. 1 seed since 1980, and the last two times — 2006 and 2015 — they failed to make the Final Four. In 2015, Nova failed to even make the tournament’s second weekend, so even if this year’s team refuses to talk about last year, they’d much rather relive the experience of that run than disappointing one the previous year.
Villanova’s senior class of Reynolds, Kris Jenkins and national player of the year candidate Josh Hart are a combined 128-16 over the last four years. They’re hoping for six more wins to cap their collective careers.