Villanova gets Milwaukee, and maybe familiar foe

Villanova gets Milwaukee, and maybe familiar foe

March 16, 2014, 9:15 pm
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Ryan Arcidiacono (right) and the Villanova Wildcats watched the selection show on campus Sunday night. They'll head to Buffalo to face Milwaukee on Thursday. (


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Brackets: East | South | Midwest | West

VILLANOVA, Pa. – The team they play first? They don’t know anything about Milwaukee.

The team they may play next? They don’t have a bigger rival.

Villanova, 28-4 and ranked No. 3 in the final regular-season AP poll, received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and will open Thursday in an East Regional game against No. 15 Milwaukee in Buffalo.

If they win? They would face Big 5 rival St. Joe’s, if the Hawks can get past UConn in their first-round game (see story).

Whatever happens, Villanova would face a familiar opponent with a win Thursday. Connecticut and Villanova were both members of the Big East from 1979 until last year.

“That would be cool,” Villanova junior guard Darrun Hilliard said. “UConn was part of the old Big East. That would be a great matchup, some good old Big East basketball.

“St. Joe’s would be another great game. The Holy War is always a historic event. We’re just looking forward to Milwaukee right now, but if we see either of those teams, it’ll be a great game.”

In Milwaukee, Villanova draws a team that was picked to finish last in the Horizon League, but opened the season 9-2, went 7-9 in conference play and then beat Valparaiso, Green Bay and Wright State to win the Horizon tournament and earn its first NCAA bid since 2006, when the Panthers upset Oklahoma in the first round.

Villanova and Milwaukee have never met. Villanova is in the NCAA tournament for the ninth time in the last 10 years. The Wildcats last won a tournament game in 2010.

No doubt, one of coach Jay Wright’s messages to his team is to not look ahead at a possible rematch with St. Joe’s but to focus right now on Milwaukee, which is 21-13 overall.

“It’s pretty crazy to think about,” sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “UConn and St. Joe’s? We have to take it one game at a time. But that would be cool if we play each other.”

What about Milwaukee?

They’re led by 5-foot-10 senior guard Jordan Aaron, who’s averaging 15 points per game, and 6-9 senior forward Kyle Kelm, who’s averaging 12.6 points and 5.2 rebounds.

The Panthers are ranked 183rd in Division I in scoring, 236th in rebounding, 226th in field goal percentage, 192nd in points allowed, and 165th in rebounds allowed.

“We don’t know anything about them. I don’t know if they know anything about us,” Arcidiacono said. “We’ll have to see what happens, see some film. I’m sure they’re a great team to get into the tournament.”

Until the Wildcats lost to Seton Hall in the Big East quarterfinals Thursday, Villanova was in position for a No. 1 seed. But Virginia wound up with the No. 1 seed in the East after beating Duke to win its first ACC tournament title in 38 years.

“I don’t even know how that works,” Hilliard said, “all the logistics and the mathematics and stuff. Getting a No. 1 seed would have been nice, but Virginia is a great team. They had a great conference tournament -- they deserved it.

“We deserved a No. 2 seed and we’re happy with that and we’ll just go ahead and play.”

Villanova trailed Seton Hall by 15 points in New York before the first half was half over. The Wildcats outscored the Pirates, 48-34, over the final 33 minutes.

So Wright’s point of emphasis: Be ready to play from the whistle, or it could be a short NCAA run.

“We deserved it, coming out in the first half like we did,” Hilliard said. “Just got to set the tone. We didn’t set the tone in that game at all and it came back to bite us. It was our fault and it won’t happen again in Buffalo.”

Wright said he likes the way his team bounced back after the upset loss to Seton Hall.

While the tournament was still going on at the Garden, the Wildcats were back on campus practicing.

“I really do not worry about these guys in that way,” Wright said. “They’ve just done it all year. Every time we’ve lost a game this year, they’ve come back eager to learn what we have to work on, eager to get better.

“I had my eye out for it, but as soon as we got back to practice Saturday, I saw the same thing.”

That doesn’t mean the one-point loss to Seton Hall isn’t driving the Wildcats, who take a 28-4 record into Buffalo.

“We hate that feeling and we don’t want to feel that feeling again, so it’s more motivation for us to keep pushing, no matter what,” freshman forward Josh Hart said.

“We’re definitely counting the days down to get back on the court. We have a bad taste from that game.”