The days of Villanova’s seniors donning the blue and white are soon coming to a close. With the NCAA Tournament under way, their final game as a Wildcat can come at any moment within the next few weeks.
It can either come tomorrow or in any of the potential five games after that.
Four years have flown for Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Henry Lowe, Patrick Farrell, and Kevin Rafferty, who transferred to the Main Line from Tsaidufts University to join the team full time in 2014-15.
“Whatever they do in this tournament, they’re going to go down as one of the all time special classes – winningest,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright. “Now, nationally, we realize their legacy is going to be based on what they do in the NCAA Tournament. It’s just what college basketball is.”
While they have solidified their place in school history as the winningest class to have ever graced the Pavilion court, their legacy has been clouded by the team’s inability to deliver in March, specifically in the NCAA Tournament.
This year marks the fourth straight time that Villanova has made the NCAA Tournament. Despite the familiarity with the tournament, the Wildcats have not advanced to the second weekend since the 2008-09 season, when they reached the Final Four.
Their freshman year was an outlier for the recent pattern. It was a turnaround year that culminated in a return to the NCAA Tournament after an ugly 13-19 season in 2011-12. The Wildcats were given a 9-seed and met their demise in the opening round to North Carolina, but it was a sign of better things to come.
Since then, Villanova has won three straight Big East regular season titles and has been given at least a 2-seed each year since 2014.
However, its success in the regular season has yet to translate in March. It is a realization that was amplified after back-to-back disappointing early exits.
The first came in 2014 as a 2-seed, as eventual champion UConn knocked the Wildcats out in the Round of 32.
Then came last year, when North Carolina State denied 1-seed Villanova a trip to the Sweet 16, leaving a bitter feeling after the Wildcats had won the Big East Tournament.
“It’s a great learning experience for our guys,” Wright said. “I wish we could teach it to them another way than losing in the NCAA Tournament, but they’re learning that you have to accept the circumstances of being in the limelight and getting praise, and you have to take the hits with that.”
The Wildcats (29-5) have excelled once again in the regular season, but the chatter and in regards to their play in the NCAA Tournament have yet to cease.
They’ve probably heard every punch line and joke that surrounds the Round of 32, and Villanova’s failed attempts to go beyond it. However, Villanova’s seniors–and the team, as a whole–haven’t thought much about the criticism that has followed them all throughout the regular season.
“We can’t really harp on the past so much,” Ochefu said. “I think we’ve done a great job of eliminating that from our memories. Obviously, we’re in the NCAA Tournament, so it’s going to be fresh in our minds, and everyone is going to be asking us about it. We do a great job of, as soon as we step on the court, we cancel it out of our minds and focus on UNC Asheville.”
The Wildcats begin their journey through the NCAA Tournament on Friday, with a 12:40 p.m. matinee against the UNC Asheville Bulldogs (22-11). The Bulldogs were the conference tournament champions coming out of the Big South.
Should Villanova defeat UNC Asheville, it will take on the winner of Iowa (21-10) and Big 5 rival Temple (21-11) in the vaunted Round of 32.
Although the Wildcats are taking it with a game-by-game basis, the state of the team and the legacy of the seniors continues to be discussed.
Regardless of what may come, whether it be another crushing defeat that sustains the tarnish of their postseason woes or a glorious final chapter of redemption and success, one thing remains constant: the team-first mentality that drives the balanced attack on the court.
This dedication to the team spills off the court and complements the one-day-a-time philosophy that the team believes in. Ask any member of the Wildcats, and they will tell you that the team takes precedence over the individual and any group.
There will be plenty of time after the season to discuss the seniors’ legacy, and they will have a lot of time to reflect upon it once the season is over. Until then, their hearts are set on the five players who set foot wearing the blue and white at any moment, as well as working on to defeat their next opponent.
“I try not to make it about myself,” Arcidiacono said. “If I tried to make it about myself or if Daniel and I made it about our senior class, it would mess up the rhythm of the team. So I try to keep it focused on everyone, and not just us.”