Last year, Villanova didn’t have things easy.
They lost the Big East Tournament — in upset fashion to Seton Hall — and were later snubbed not only for a No. 1 seed but also for home-court advantage with the Eastern Regional being held in Philadelphia.
It didn’t matter much as they ran the table and won a national title in spectacular fashion.
This year, things are a little different. But the Wildcats will be hoping the final outcome is the same.
After holding the No. 1 ranking in all of basketball for the greater portion of the regular season, the Wildcats have earned a lot of respect — more than they are used to — and were given the No. 1 overall seed in the entire tournament ahead of this week’s NCAA Tournament.
If they take care of business in Buffalo against the winner of New Orleans and Mount St. Mary’s (the 16-seed play-in game)and later against the winner of No. 9 Virginia Tech and No. 8 Wisconsin, they will play close to home at Madison Square Garden in the Eastern Regional next weekend.
The Cats haven’t lost to a non-Big East team in several years, and they will have big targets on their backs as the NCAA Tournament ramps up.
Jay Wright’s squad boasts not only the top contender for the NCAA National Player of the Year on Josh Hart, but also has more veteran guard play in Kris Jenkins — who hit the game-winning buzzer-beater over UNC when the Cats won last year’s title, and Jalen Brunson.
With arguably the best guards in all of college basketball and one of the most highly-touted coaches in Jay Wright, the Wildcats will be in “game mode” when their journey to repeat begins Thursday.
“We gotta be coachable and we can’t get complacent,” Hart said after winning the Most Outstanding Player Award following a dominating win against Creighton to clinch the Big East Tournament title. “We gotta keep getting better, we’re not as good as we can be yet.”
The possibility does exist that Nova and Duke face off in an Eastern Regional Final in MSG. It would be hard to think of a better college hoop matchup in the Elite Eight.
The only other real threats in a solid but not overly impressive East Region are No. 3 Baylor and No. 5 Virginia, but most of the other higher seeds face some difficult lower-seeded teams like UNC Wilmington (No. 12 facing Virginia) or Eastern Tennessee State (No. 13 facing No. 4 Florida) and could perhaps offer a respite for the Cats if they take care of business.