Villanova Wildcats

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

Wisconsin too good for an 8-seed, but Villanova takes blame for another early NCAA Tournament exit

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BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jay Wright started shaking his head before the question was even finished.

"Isn't it unfair for you guys to have to face a team like Wisconsin in the second round?"

Everybody knows Wisconsin should have been seeded higher than No. 8. Everybody but the NCAA selection committee.

The Badgers were ranked as high as seventh in the country as late as mid-February, they won 25 games in a highly-regarded conference, they beat three ranked teams and they have a roster loaded with experienced veterans of three Sweet 16s and two Final Fours.

They could have been a five seed, like Minnesota, which Wisconsin beat twice and won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They could have been a six seed, like Maryland, which Wisconsin beat by 11 and also won fewer games both overall and in the Big Ten.

They should not have been a No. 8 seed. Should not have been Villanova's opponent Saturday in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32.

After earning the overall No. 1 seed, Villanova's reward was a second-round meeting with an opponent with tremendous depth and experience.

After Villanova lost, 65-62, at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, Wright was asked several times about the seeming unfairness of it all.

"I don't think there should be anything negative about this tournament, especially from the players and coaches," Wright said. "It's a tourney, they make the bracket. Our job is to go play.

"You want to play great teams. You want to go to the tournament and play great teams and beat all the best. I think (you can't) worry about where you get knocked out. … I just worry about how our guys play and I was proud of how our guys played.

"We could have played better, but proud of how well they stuck together. We love this tournament. We love being in it. I'll take being in it every year, give us whoever you want. Give us a 1 seed, I don't care. We love being in it."

But the reality is that Villanova has now lost as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed four times in the last eight years to opponents seeded No. 7 or No. 8.

According to Sports-Reference's NCAA Tournament Game Finder, No. 1 and 2 seeds are 255-52 against opponents seeded No. 7 or lower since 2001, when Wright became head coach at Villanova.

But Villanova and Kansas are the only schools that have lost four times as a No. 1 or 2 seed against an opponent seeded seventh or lower.

And it's now happened to Villanova three times in the last four years. It's only happened to every other school combined 10 times the last four years.

Three years ago, very similarly, Villanova lost as a No. 2 seed to No. 7 UConn on the same court. UConn went on to win the national title.

"This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in our country," Wright said. "You know, just being in it, I say this every year to our team, we can't take it for granted. It's so special to be a part of it.

"Every time you win and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You're playing the best teams in the country. You're going to come down to games like this, you know? We had a game like this against Kansas last year and we came out on the good side of it. We had a game like this against N.C. State (in 2015), and we had a shot to win it and we missed it.

"To me, there's no dishonor in losing in this tournament but I do know that -- and we've lived through it -- you are judged by how you play in this tournament and that's the reality of it. So you have to accept it."

It's only fair that part of the legacy of this senior class -- Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds -- is that they were eliminated early in three of their four years.

Their 129 wins are 10th-most in NCAA Division 1 history over a four-year span, and of course their national championship last year is what will be remembered the most.

But three early exits from the tournament do have to be considered alongside the celebration in Houston, the parade down Market Street and meeting President Obama.

Hard to believe, but Villanova has only reached one Sweet 16 in the last eight years after reaching four the previous five years. It's just that the one Sweet 16 turned into a national title.

"It's the reality of this tournament and it's great lesson in life," Wright said. "When you're getting a lot of accolades, you're going to get some heat too.

"Everything in life is a balance, man, and you've got to be prepared for it, and when you're getting all the accolades and you're a No. 1 seed you know you're going to win it or you're going to be crushed, it's part of life, and it's a great lesson for those guys."

In the end, this Villanova team didn't shoot as well as last year, didn't have nearly the post presence of last year, didn't make clutch foul shots like last year and certainly didn't have the depth of last year.

And it all caught up to the Wildcats in the final few minutes Saturday afternoon, when a seven-point lead turned into a three-point loss.

But in a way, what Villanova did with just seven players -- only three who were really offensive threats by the end of the season -- won 32 games and both the Big East regular-season title and Big East Tournament.

"I'm most proud of the team that we became after losing Omari (Spellman) and Phil (Booth) and Tim Delaney, we lost Tim for the year as well," Wright said in the hallway outside the Villanova locker room Saturday evening.

"When that happened we figured, 'Let’s see how good we can be.' And we became a hell of a team. But not good enough to get past this Wisconsin team. But still a hell of a team. But not a national champion.

"And I thought we had a chance. It's such a fine line between being a national champion and losing at any point in this tournament. That's a hell of a team. That team could go to the Final Four. They've got Final Four experience.

"I know we get judged on how far we get, and that’s fair, I get it. But on the inside, we look at it like this: 'We played a great team, we played great, we didn't get it done. We're OK, we're OK.'

"Not right now, we're not. We're disappointed. We're going to hurt for a while, till the tournament's over. That's how long we'll hurt."

Albany upsets Villanova with fumble return in OT

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USA Today Images

Albany upsets Villanova with fumble return in OT

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Eli Mencer scooped up a fumble and, with no one in front of him, sprinted 80 yards for a score, lifting Albany to a 19-10 overtime upset of Villanova Saturday night.

After Albany took a 13-10 lead in overtime on Ethan Stark's third field goal of the night, Zach Bednarczyk moved Villanova to a fourth-and-one at the 16. But he was stripped of the ball. Mencer bent down, scooped it up and ran for the TD amid a phalanx of teammates.

The win is the first time Albany (3-1, 1-0 Colonial Athletic Association) has beaten Villanova (2-2, 0-1) ranked No. 8 in the FCS coaches poll. The Wildcats drove 87 yards and knotted the score at 10-10 when Aaron Forbes took a shovel pass and scored with no time left in regulation.

Villanova held Albany to 95 yards rushing, the sixth-straight game of holding an opponent to less than 100. Three Wildcats fumbles were turned into three field goals by the Great Danes.

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

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CSN

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

No. 7 Villanova (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Albany (2-1, 0-0 CAA)
Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, Albany, New York
Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s time for conference play as Villanova kicks off its CAA slate this weekend. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats asserted their FCS dominance last week with a 59-0 thrashing of overmatched Lafayette. That came two weeks after a win over another Patriot League team in Lehigh, which preceded an impressive showing in a loss to FBS Temple. All of which is to say that the Wildcats head into conference play as good as advertised as one of the juggernauts in the CAA, led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (who completed 13 of 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns last week), a balanced rushing attack (also last week: seven different ball carriers combined to run for 262 yards and three TDs), and a defense that slowed down Temple and had two TDs vs. Lafayette (and was among the nation’s best last season).

Scouting Albany
After losing to Old Dominion in their opener, the Great Danes have won two straight, shutting out Morgan State, 26-0, and doubling up Monmouth, 28-14. In last week’s win over Monmouth, redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Brunson threw for one touchdown and ran for another while the Albany defense, led by redshirt senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky (15 tackles), held one of FCS’s top rushing teams to just 63 yards on the ground. Picked to finish sixth in the CAA in the preseason, Albany also features an all-league running back in junior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who scored a TD in his season debut last week after sitting out the first two games with an injury.

History
Villanova leads the all-time series, 3-0, having defeated the Great Danes in each of the past three seasons.

Storyline to watch
Albany’s defense is off to a solid start, ranking second in the CAA in both total defense and passing defense. Bednarczyk and company had a field day with Lehigh and Lafayette but it will be interesting to see how they manage the game, and balance the run vs. pass, against a more proficient defensive unit.

What’s at stake?
Winning on the road is never easy but if it wants to win the CAA, Villanova is going to have to stay unblemished until facing league powerhouse and defending national champion James Madison in mid-October.

Prediction
The Wildcats will immediately show why they’re one of the CAA’s best teams.

Villanova 28, Albany 17