NCAA tourney checkup: Win means Villanova likely in

NCAA tourney checkup: Win means Villanova likely in

March 7, 2013, 1:30 pm
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Villanova Wildcats (19-12, 10-8)

Current outlook: Breathing easier
RPI rank: 53*
Non-con SOS rank: 136**

Important results (RPI in parentheses)

Pretty wins (vs <51-RPI):
• Louisville (4), 73-64
• Marquette (11), 60-56
• Georgetown (12), 67-57
• Syracuse (17), 75-71 (ot)
• at Connecticut (47), 70-61

Ugly losses (vs >99-RPI):
• Columbia (265), 57-75
• at Seton Hall (116), 65-66

Resume plus: Five top-50-RPI scalps in Big East play including one on the road and four among the top 17.
Resume minus: Early loss to Columbia and a notably weak non-conference schedule in which the Wildcats did not perform. Nothing much to show from the road.

Remainder of schedule
Wed. – Cincinnati (49), St. John's (73) or Providence (79) in either the 8-vs.-9-seed (noon) or 7-vs.-10-seed (7 p.m.) game of the Big East tournament's first round at Madison Square Garden. If Connecticut (46) wins at home against Providence on Saturday, Villanova will be the 7-seed. If Providence wins, the Cats will be the 8-seed. UC is in much better shape for the NCAAs than either PC or SJU who are desperate for multiple wins.
Thu. – Georgetown (12) or Louisville (4) in the second round, provided a win on Wednesday.

What Wednesday's win over Georgetown (12) means
Everything. For a single regular-season game, it's hard to imagine a greater potential span of impact. Had the Wildcats lost, they were dragging a three-game losing streak into New York with a mandate to win twice. Now, they might not have to win at all.

As we said after the Seton Hall debacle, it wasn't fatal as long as the Cats found a way to grab another scalp. They did and now have four wins over top-17-RPI opponents. As of Thursday morning, only Indiana could also make that claim (Duke and Butler were the only others close).

It was vital that 'Nova compensate for a barren non-conference resume in which they accomplished next to nothing. But they have done that in spades.

What the near future holds
I believe there is less risk/reward in the Wildcats' first-round Big East tournament game than many think, especially compared with both the Pitt and Georgetown contests they just played. Those were the two in which they needed to at least split and they almost got both.

I think their gaudy quartet of high-octane quality wins plus the relative low-rent look of their at-large competitors' resumes – take a look at, say, Kentucky, Tennessee and Massachusetts; there is simply no comparison – makes Nova a lock with one win in NYC and odds-on even with a first-round exit.

The objective now is to avoid the First Four in Dayton, what used to be called the “play-in games.” Win that first-rounder at the Garden and the Cats can book a Thursday/Friday NCAA game.

*RPI courtesy of CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm.
**The non-conference strength of schedule rank is a figure available to the selection committee to gauge how rigorous a schedule each team attempted to play outside its mandated league slate.

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