PITTSBURGH (AP) — It’s not a curse. Because Villanova has won a national championship.
It’s not always bad luck. Again, the banner in the rafters.
It’s certainly not something to fear. See, 2016.
But the second round of the NCAA Tournament has certainly mystified the Wildcats for most of the last eight times they’ve reached that spot. The 2016 national championship trophy in the lobby of the school’s sparkling practice facility should probably be flanked by more April hardware.
For all the Wildcats have achieved under coach Jay Wright — they’ve run roughshod over the Big East for the better part of a decade — it’s easy to see how they could have squeezed at least a few more Sweet 16s and beyond out of the program.
First, the good stuff.
The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight as a No. 1 seed in 2006, a Final Four as a 3 in 2009 and were a top seed during the 2016 national championship season.
Now, here’s where they cringe on the Main Line.
The Wildcats lost in the first weekend as a 1 or 2 seed in 2010, 2014, 2015 and 2017.
Here they are again, the top-seeded Wildcats (31-4) chasing a Sweet 16 berth if they can beat No. 9 Alabama (20-15) on Saturday.
This year’s Wildcats insist past disappointments aren’t trending topics in the locker room.
“(It’s) something that we rarely talk about,” star guard Jalen Brunson said. “It’s something that may cross my mind here and there.”
Wright has tried to find a consistent issue that doomed the Wildcats in each of the 1 and 2 seed defeats that kept the program from perhaps making it the true class of college basketball.
(Not that the blueblood doesn’t already reside on a pretty lofty perch.)
The ones that slipped away still sting.
— 2010. No. 2 seed. Lost in second round, 75-68 to Saint Mary’s. The 10th-seeded Gaels held each of Villanova’s top three scorers to under double figures and All-American Scottie Reynolds missed 9 of 11 shots in his final game. Saint Mary’s center Omar Samhan scored 32 points.
— 2014. No. 2 seed. Lost in second round, 77-65 to UConn. No one expected the seventh-seeded Huskies would go on to win the national championship. But at the time, the Huskies had just squeaked by Saint Joseph’s in overtime, and this was a big upset. Villanova went more than 11 minutes without a field goal, missing 10 straight shots and blew a 10-point lead.
— 2015. No. 1 seed. Lost in second round, 71-68 to N.C. State. The Wildcats could not buy a basket. They missed a whopping 20 of 28 field goals in the first half and shot 31 percent (19 of 61) overall. This one was notable as the game that spawned the birth of the sad Villanova band member nicknamed Piccolo Girl.
— 2017. No. 1 seed. Lost in second round, 65-62 to Wisconsin. Villanova was the overall No. 1 seed and needed only two games again to get bounced. The No. 8 seed Badgers were playing in their 19th straight NCAA Tournament and were expected to be a tough out. Nigel Hayes scored a layup in traffic with 11.4 seconds left that would deny the Wildcats their second straight national championship.
“Not one of those hurts any more than the other,” Wright said.
They’d like to keep the Kleenex away from the band on Saturday.
“These guys have said, we know the best of this tournament, where we won it all, and we know the worst when you’re getting knocked out early,” Wright said. “So we just respect the fact that anything can happen.”
That’s where the Crimson Tide come into play.
Alabama beat Virginia Tech 86-83 in the opener for its first NCAA Tournament win since 2006. The Crimson Tide last played and defeated a No. 1 seed in 2004 when they reached the Elite Eight.
“I don’t think anybody’s, at this point, thinking that we’re going to win this game. But we just got to play ball,” coach Avery Johnson said. “Weird things happen in the NCAA Tournament.”
Colin Sexton, who averages 19.2 points, scored 25 points against the Hokies and has already collected a slew of awards as the top freshman in the SEC. He’ll battle Brunson in perhaps the most anticipated guard matchup of the weekend.
MORE THAN ONE SHOT: Senior guard Chris Chiozza made one of the biggest shots in Florida history, swishing a game-winning 3-pointer at the overtime buzzer as the Gators stunned Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 last March.
This season, Chiozza has already become the first player in an NCAA Tournament game since 2011 to have a turnover-free game while also dishing out at least 11 assists. He did that in Florida’s first-round win over St. Bonaventure.
“I’m really proud of Chris. I’m so happy he’s my point guard. He’s had a great career, and I’m most excited that his legacy will forever be that he had a good career, and he had a really good senior year in addition to the shot,” said Gators coach Mike White, a former point guard. “It wasn’t just about the one shot.”
MULTIPLE ADVANCES: This is Florida’s sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament when the Gators have won their opener. They’ve made to the Elite Eight each of the previous five times.
Texas Tech had lost its previous two tourney openers (2007 and 2016) since making it to the Sweet 16 in 2005 under coach Bobby Knight, when current Chris Beard was a Red Raiders assistant coach.
“That first one felt good,” senior forward Tommy Hamilton IV said about Tech’s 70-60 comeback win over Stephen F. Austin. “It was ugly, but we got it done.”
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