PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was the elephant in the room all season.
The Villanova Wildcats won another Big East regular season title and reached the finals of the conference tournament. They won 29 games during the 2015-16 campaign. However, the ghosts of NCAA Tournaments past continued to haunt Jay Wright’s squad. The Cats reached heights many other college programs could only dream of, but it seemed irrelevant to many fans who were hoping the team could writing a different ending to March Madness. Coach Jay Wright doesn’t want his team’s accomplishments to be overshadowed by their NCAA losses, but understands the importance of what they are able to do in March.
“We would win games,” said Wright. “People would say it doesn’t really matter. We won the Big East Championship, and some said it didn’t matter and that it only matters what you do in the tournament and that you’ve got to get to the second round.”
Getting to the second weekend of the tournament has been a problem for Villanova. The Wildcats have not reached the Sweet 16 since 2009, the year the program made it to the Final Four. The last two tournaments have been particularly painful for Villanova, as they fell as a one seed in 2015 and a two seed in 2014. The Wildcats are a number two seed this March, but Guard Josh Hart says they do not need drastic changes to their tournament preparation.
“It is business as usual,” Hart said. “Obviously, the last couple of years, we had early exits. We were disappointed about that, but we’re just going to keep doing what we do, and that’s play Villanova Basketball and get better.”
For the seniors, it will be the end of a remarkable run no matter how the final chapter is written. Senior Guard Ryan Arcidiacono has been a big part of Villanova’s success, but he is also trying to erase the memory of those painful NCAA losses. Last year’s tournament loss was a three-point defeat at the hands of North Carolina State, and Arcidiacono knows there were plenty of moments early in the game which could have turned things in Villanova’s favor. He understands the Wildcats will need to play a full 40 minutes in each game of the tournament.
“I though last year we were in good shape,” said Arcidiacono. “It’s all about one or two little plays that make a difference in a game. It’s not just the end of the game. It’s how you start a game and we’re definitely in good shape to do that.”
It all begins for Villanova on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. The Wildcats will open up against UNC-Asheville, with a showdown looming against either Iowa or Big 5 rival Temple should the Cats advance. Either way, the players can now focus on putting those bad memories to rest once and for all, and the questions about their early exits will finally come to an end.
Wright insists the pressure is not on his seniors as they take their final crack at a long NCAA Tournament run.
“There’s a lot of talk about the pressure around us getting to the second weekend,” Wright said. “But these guys have only been a part of it for a few years. They’re way more committed to trying to get deep for themselves. They haven’t been screwing this up as long as I have. They don’t feel the pressure. They just want to do it because it’s their senior year.”