Selection Sunday might as well be another holiday on Villanova’s campus.
There were alumni from the 60’s, 80’s, even one who graduated in 1959 that got a personal shoutout from Villanova’s head coach Jay Wright. Villanovans, past and present, had lined up for over an hour and a half in order to get a coveted seat in the Connelly Center, where they were joined by the player’s families, possible future Nationers, and the Villanova Band.
Almost instantly after the program started, cheers erupted from the crowd. There wasn’t any time for the suspense to build, as ‘Nova was selected as the top pick for the NCAA tournament right away. While the crowd cheered, the basketball team kept it business as usual.
“It’s a lot more subdued, and businesslike, which is alright,” said Wright of the team’s demeanor. “It just takes one year not getting here, and then the next year you’re crazy again. But I think the guys appreciate that they have more work to do.”
This is just the third time in program history that Villanova had received a No. 1 seed, and the first time ever that the ‘Cats were deemed the top overall seed.
The team plans on leaving for Buffalo, N.Y. later on Monday, in order to get ahead of the snowstorm that is going to hit the East coast. The Wildcats are slated to take on the winner of the First Four game between New Orleans and Mount St. Mary’s to open tournament play. However, the condensed time to prepare for their first opponents, offer a new challenge.
“It’s actually tougher–there’s less time to prepare,” said Wright. “We’ve done this once before, and we got Monmouth, and almost got beat in that. It’s tough. These teams are good.”
Should the Wildcats advance, which history says they should–as no No. 16 seed has ever upset a No. 1 seed in the history of the tournament–they will take on the winner of No. 8 Wisconsin-No. 9 Virginia Tech. From there, they may meet Florida or find themselves in a rematch with Virginia in the Sweet 16. Also looming in the East region, are No. 2-seeded Duke, winners of the ACC tournament, plus the Big XII’s No. 3 Baylor, and No. 6 Southern Methodist (SMU)–who won both the AAC regular-season and conference titles.
“Whoever’s in our bracket is going to be tough,” said sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. “There are so many great teams out there. We’ve gotta focus on our next game.”
While players were addressing the crowd, they weren’t only excited for themselves, but also for the conference as a whole. They kept a watchful eye as the rest of the field was slowly being announced, filling in the missing pieces of the 68-team puzzle. Each time a fellow Big East school got in, they flashed a smile.
“It’s great that Seton hall got a good seed in, Creighton got a good seed in,” said Josh Hart, midway through the bracket reveal. “I think we’ve got five in so far? That’s always a blessing, to have, right now, five teams? Half of the conference in the bracket, that’s great.”
By the end of the show, Hart was surely delighted to know for sure that not just five, but seven of the 10 Big East teams had earned a spot in the Big Dance.
Along with Villanova’s No. 1 seed, Butler (4), Creighton (6), Seton Hall (9), Marquette (10), Providence (11), and Xavier (11) made the cut.
The Big East may not be sending the highest number of schools to the NCAA Tournament, but it is sending the highest percentage of teams within its conference. With 70 percent of the Big East represented, the conference boasts the highest percentage of schools sent for a conference in this year’s tournament.
“I hope that the final four–it’s the Big East,” Hart said. “You know, I hope that everyone in the conference does well.”
Last year, going into the tournament, the biggest question was, ‘Can they get out of the first weekend?’ Now the narrative has shifted to whether or not the ‘Cats can repeat.
“We were national champs last year, Big East regular season champs this year, Big East tournament champs this year,” Hart said. “We have had a lot of opportunities to get complacent and big-headed and that’s something we don’t do.”
Villanova’s NCAA title defense begins on Thursday night, when it takes on the winner of First Four matchup New Orleans-Mount St. Mary’s at 7:10 p.m.