It looks like there will be no home coming for Villanova this NCAA tournament as the Wildcats will head to Brooklyn for their first game of the tournament.
As a 2-seed in the South, Villanova will not be playing a potential Sweet 16 game at the Wells Fargo Center but in Kentucky instead. However, the ‘Cats will be accompanied in the South Region by their Philadelphia brethren the Temple Owls and could face a possible Big Five matchup in the Round of 32 to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.
The Wildcats will face UNC-Asheville (22-11), champions of the Big South Conference, in their first round game at the Barclays Center on Friday.
“I know that the conference is pretty tough, so for them [UNC-Asheville] to win that they have to be a pretty tough team,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
Should the Wildcats win their first matchup, they would face the winner of Iowa (21-10) versus Temple (21-11), setting up a potential Big Five rematch in the Big Dance.
This excitement of a clash between the two Philadelphia schools was felt in the crowd, which had a strong reaction to the Temple Owls sharing a piece of the South Region as a 10-seed.
“It would be extremely special to have a Big 5 matchup in the NCAA Tournament, very special for the city,” Wright said. “It would be crazy. It would be fun to do that, but we have to take care of the first game and the one after that.”
While many fans were disappointed that the Wildcats will not be playing in Philadelphia, there are some perks that come along with having to hit the road.
“I mean you’d rather be in Philly, but there are a lot of distractions,” Wright said. “It’s almost overwhelming, but when the game starts its an advantage.”
With being miles away from Philadelphia, there is a deeper sense of camaraderie that comes with trying to win as visitors.
“It’s mostly you and your brothers against everyone else,” Josh Hart said. “I think we all love being on the road a little more than being at home because we’re all that much more connected.”
Coach Wright and the Wildcats packed the Villanova Room with family, friends, alumni and students to view the Selection Sunday show.
Villanova will be joined in the NCAA Tournament by four other Big East teams. Xavier is a 2-seed, sitting in the East Region. Big East Tournament champion Seton Hall was given a 6-seed. Meanwhile, Providence and Butler both earned 9-seeds.
The ‘Cats took the news that they would be a 2-seed in the South Region stoically, treating it as business as usual.
“We just have to take it one game at a time, one practice at a time,” Ryan Arcidiacono said. “To have the opportunity to play on Friday and hopefully again on Sunday is great.”
Wright, Arcidiacono and Ochefu also addressed the crowd in the Villanova Room. Coach Wright said the Cats have “a lot more winning to do.”
The main question facing the Wildcats now is whether or not they can make it past the Round of 32. Wright’s team has struggled in recent history at the NCAA tournament. Villanova hasn’t reached the second weekend since 2009, when it reached the Final Four.
In the last couple of years, the Wildcats have been ushered out earlier than they would have liked, suffering back-to-back upset losses in the Round of 32 in 2014 and 2015.
First was against Shabazz Napier and the eventual national champion UConn Huskies in 2014 as a 2-seed, and then a three-point loss to North Carolina State as a 1-seed.
Despite these past the failures, the players and coaching staff are not letting this pressure dampen them going into the NCAA Tournament.
Whether or not the Wildcats can break their streak of early exits from they tournament remains to be seen. Until then, they are locked in on their first opponent, and they will take it from there.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Kris Jenkins said. “It’s a two game tournament from here on out. UNC-Asheville is our next opponent, so that’s our most important game.”