Editor’s Note: Chris Stanziale also contributed to this post.
Villanova has lost its first Big East game of the season. But you already know this. What you don’t know (yet) is that this was the best thing to happen to this team since the Xavier win. Why? Well, the answer is not simple.
First off let me say this – moving the game to Sunday was the absolute right decision by Villanova and Providence. It was an obvious and smart decision. However, this game was not a home game. There was no band. There were no cheerleaders. There were barely enough students to fill the south side Student Section and none on the other side. There were no tailgates. As if that wasn’t enough, Wells Fargo did not even grant us a Villanova logo at center court. The annual Spring Break game at the Wells Fargo has more of a home atmosphere than that which we witnessed Sunday. The game felt out of place in every way and I believe those Villanovans in the stands and on the court knew it.
That being said, the atmosphere in the arena wasn’t that bad. The student section did everything in its power to provide some life into the arena, from doing the band’s “You Suck” chant after fouls to the hype song that is played at the beginning of the halves. I thought it was great that some of the section even got the “Yes!” chant going. I loved it.
The Wells Fargo Center has the capability to seat thousands more fans and students than the Pavilion, and should therefore give our Cats the best possible home field advantage. That’s why we play our biggest games there. Unfortunately, Snowstorm Jonas thwarted that advantage.
But that’s enough excuses for now. Let’s revisit the game.
I don’t have to spell out how the first half went. Anyone who watched the Marquette, Butler, or Seton Hall games of late knows how it went. Villanova pulls ahead by mid-half. Our esteemed opponent (or less-than-esteemed, it hasn’t really mattered lately) is allowed to storm back into the lead. And wow look at that! By halftime it’s a close game that never should have been if we had only built upon the lead we had established.
The second half was likewise close throughout. That is, until the last two minutes. When a series of exchanging buckets ended with a Villanova turnover followed by a Kris Dunn three to give Providence the lead, the game was not over but it certainly felt like it. Timeouts defined the last minute until, down by 3 with seconds left, Jay Wright’s squad turned to the man on the court who plays twice his size in clutch moments. That man of whom I speak of is none other than Ryan Arcidiacono. Of course it was him who hit the game-tying 3 in Syracuse game-like fashion to send us to overtime.
When we hit a three to open up overtime, it seemed like we would run away with the win just like almost every overtime Villanova plays. Instead, those extra five minutes were monopolized by Ben Bentil to cap off an already outstanding performance. And so our fate was sealed.
This was clearly a game that Villanova should have won. That’s what makes it so (initially) painful. If we took any other team in the country to overtime with that momentum I think Villanova would’ve won. But Providence is, I think, the best team in late close games and it’s not even close. Of the six games the Friars have played that have been decided by less than four points, they have won all but one, and that’s excluding this overtime win in Philadelphia.
If you’re still reading by now, I suppose you deserve the answer I alluded to in my opening paragraph. This loss was the best thing that could’ve happened to Villanova at this time because it was a wake-up call. A reality check. No team, even our Wildcats, was going to run the Big East gauntlet undefeated. This loss changes nothing. In fact, according to Joe Lunardi’s most recent bracketology, Villanova is still projected as a #1 seed.
I believe our future is bright because this loss does not sting like a blowout or unranked upset. This loss is a fire in our collective belly that will propel us forward to another Big East title. February matters the most to March. What happens in January only sets the stage. Villanova is still the cream of the Big East’s elite crop and one loss will not relinquish that crown.