Villanova has this habit that no other Division I basketball team can boast. Within the last decade, they have been knocked out of the tournament by the eventual National Champion more times than any other school. There was 2005, 2006, 2008, 2009, and now – 2014. That is five out of the last ten years where the Wildcats have lost to the champion.
In 2005, the Wildcats compiled a 22-7 record during the regular season. Their play earned them a 5-seed for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats made it past the first weekend. They won their opening game against New Mexico and then followed it up with another victory in the game against Florida. It was Jay Wright’s first time at the Big Dance as the head coach for the Wildcats and they had made it to the Sweet 16. They faced off against the North Carolina Tar Heels, who tore their opponents apart in the first weekend. This time around, the Wildcats made it clear they were not going to be blown away like their other opponents. It was a close game that came down to the wire. Villanova was down by three leading up to the closing seconds of the game. Allan Ray drove to the basket and made the shot as the whistle was blown. A controversial traveling violation was called on Ray, calling the basket off. North Carolina would escape, 67-66.
The following year, the Wildcats improved upon their record. They were 25-4 going into the NCAA Tournament. Jay Wright was named the Big East Coach of the Year and would be eventually named the winner of the Naismith Coach of the Year award. In Wright’s second trip to the Big Dance, the Wildcats would sit at the top with a 1-seed. They beat Monmouth and Arizona in the opening weekend of the tournament. The game was pretty close against Arizona, but their Sweet 16 game against Boston College gave them bigger problems. The game against 4-seed Boston College went into overtime. In overtime, the Wildcats caught a few breaks and made the crucial baskets to keep their tournament dreams alive. They outlasted the Eagles, 60-59. In the Elite Eight, the Florida Gators and the Villanova Wildcats met once again. This time, the Gators would avenge their loss from the previous tournament. Led by the combination of Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford, future NBA starters, Florida comfortably took down Villanova. They would end up winning back-to-back championships in 2006 and 2007 with the same main pieces. Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye would declare for the draft and start their careers in the NBA.
In 2007, the Wildcats had a very short trip to the NCAA Tournament. They lost their opening game to Kentucky, but they would be back in 2008. The Wildcats had a rocky regular season, finishing 20-12. They entered the tournament as a 12-seed, the lowest seed the Wildcats ever had under Jay Wright. Analysts and experts did not have them going far and they were not projected to do well in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the doubt and odds placed against them, the Wildcats came out and made a statement by upsetting the 5-seeded Clemson Tigers. They then faced off against another upset-minded team in Siena. Villanova beat Siena 84-72, bringing them back to the Sweet 16. They were faced with the herculean task of playing the 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Kansas took care of Villanova, beating them 72-57. The play of the Wildcats left much promise and expectations for the following season.
2009 brought Villanova’s most successful run in the tournament since 1985. The 3-seeded Wildcats cruised past the opening weekend with victories over American and UCLA. In the Sweet 16, Villanova picked apart the Duke Blue Devils to bring them back to the Elite Eight. The Wildcats faced off against their Big East rival Pittsburgh. The Pitt Panthers had the top seed in the region and proved to be a formidable opponent. It was an exciting game that went back-and-forth until Scottie Reynolds had one of the most famous plays in Villanova basketball history. He went coast to coast as the last few seconds came off the clock and had the game winning buzzer beater. The Wildcats were off to the Final Four, their first since 1985. They were set to play another 1-seed in North Carolina. Unfortunately, the magic was gone. The Tar Heels defeated the Wildcats 83-69 and then eventually went on to win the national title.
Which sets us up for this year…
UConn won their second title in four years. We all know what happened in this year’s tournament when it comes to UConn and Villanova, but they also protected the legacy of the 1985 Villanova squad. It was the second time they did so. In 2011, they beat the 8-seeded Butler Bulldogs to capture the national title. This year they beat 8-seeded Kentucky. So I guess in a way, we have to thank them (?)
Tony Chennault, James Bell, and Nick McMahon are going to be missed next year, but they all helped in giving Villanova one of their finest seasons in history. Villanova will be bringing back a lot of talent from this year’s squad and will look to be another serious contender to be on top of the Big East. They are also looking good on some very early preseason polls. There are also some new faces coming to the Main Line next fall, it should be interesting what next season will bring for Villanova.