The past two years, the Villanova Wildcats have entered the NCAA Championship Tournament as one of the top eight seeds and yet both times, have fallen short, losing in the third round. In fact, since reaching the Final Four in 2009, the defending Big East and Philadelphia Big 5 champions have won just three of their eight tournament games.
The Wildcats will look to change that this season, especially given it is the senior year of two of their top players, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, both of whom put in big games earlier this week against Nebraska.
The 11th ranked Villanova began the game down 7-0 but never panicked. They ended up going off on a 22-0 run late in the first half and ultimately defeated the Cornhuskers 87-63. Arcidiacano and Ochefu combined for 32 of the team’s points with the 6’11 forward adding 10 rebounds.
Both Ochefu and Arcidiacono have only gotten better with each year and there’s no reason to believe the same won’t be the case this season. The duo both joined the roster as freshmen in 2011 and since then have helped lead Villanova to success in the regular season and Big East tournament. With experience under their belts, these two look to lead a very young roster to the first real postseason success in their individual careers.
For Villanova, that’s what it’s really all about. They have been a top seed, one of the best and hottest teams entering the tournament, yet they have failed to really pull off a run. But as far as the Big East goes, there is really no one who can compare with Nova in terms of overall talent and meaningful tournament experience.
So assuming Villanova wins the Big East again, which odds support they have the second best chance in the conference, first belonging to Butler, the team will enter March Madness once again as likely a one or two seed. Despite their past failings, it’s not a bold prediction to say that Nova will be favorites to go to the Sweet 16 and beyond.
As far as the Big 5 goes, Villanova are perennial favorites it seems. They play their first Big 5 game in December against St. Joseph’s University and will be part of the iconic double-header held in the Palestra in early 2016. They went 4-0 in the mini-conference last year and very well could go undefeated again.
As much as winning the Big East and the Big 5 would mean, at this point, that’s old hat. It has been surprising that the team has not managed to get out of the third round but that is the focus and in 2016, all signs point to this being the team that finally does it.
The freshman recruiting class was strong and led by the senior leadership, Nova has all of the pieces in place. They also have one of the most balanced rosters in the entire college basketball landscape with eight upperclassmen (five seniors) and six underclassmen (four freshmen).
The final piece of the puzzle is Jay Wright, who since 2001, has coached this team to some of its greatest regular season records and conference tournament performances. Against Nebraska, he led his resilient squad despite the early deficit. He’s a mentor and a coach to these kids and he’s always been a great guiding force.
So Nova has the coach, they have the roster, they have the talent and experience, now all they need are the wins and if this early season is any indication, they might come this year in the tournament after all.