Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Brookover: Time for Villanova to face the troublesome postseason

It did not take long for the elephant in the room to be introduced and addressed. Villanova had just finished celebrating its third straight Big East regular-season title on the floor at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon following its 84-71 beat-down of longtime rival Georgetown. The victory was a culmination of a 27-4 season, including a 16-2 conference mark.

Kris Jenkins, left, and Josh Hart of  Villanova celebrate after winning the regular season Big East Championship Trophy.  Villanova defeated Georgetown 84-71 at the Wells Fargo Center on March 5, 2016.  CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Kris Jenkins, left, and Josh Hart of Villanova celebrate after winning the regular season Big East Championship Trophy. Villanova defeated Georgetown 84-71 at the Wells Fargo Center on March 5, 2016. CHARLES FOX / Staff PhotographerRead moreCHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

It did not take long for the elephant in the room to be introduced and addressed.

Villanova had just finished celebrating its third straight Big East regular-season title on the floor at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon following its 84-71 beat-down of longtime rival Georgetown. The victory was a culmination of a 27-4 season, including a 16-2 conference mark.

Once the Wildcats built a 21-point lead in the first nine minutes, the only drama that remained was when coach Jay Wright would remove his two seniors - guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu - to let them bask in separate standing ovations from the sellout crowd.

"We couldn't be prouder of this group of guys," Wright said. "It's a grind to win a regular-season championship. I'm really grateful to the Villanova fans that came out today to sell this place out and really honor these guys. I think that's what they did today."

OK. Great. Send in the pachyderm.

"Jay, is it easy to envision coming back here in a couple of weeks and cutting down the nets?" a questioner asked.

It was an obvious reference to the NCAA tournament, the one thing Wright and the Wildcats have been unable to conquer since becoming the undisputed rulers of the realigned Big East. Despite a No. 2 seeding two years ago and a No. 1 seed last year, the Wildcats failed to make it through the tournament's first weekend, and it serves as low-hanging fruit for critics of the program and the conference.

"Actually, I don't look at this stuff until after the Big East tournament, but I'm sure there are going to be a lot of things that have to happen for us to be seeded like that, and then we have to win games," Wright said. "We have to win a lot of games. We don't think about that yet."

The first order of business for the Wildcats is the Big East tournament this week at Madison Square Garden, but they won that last year. Of course it would be a great accomplishment to win it again, and it would also likely allow Villanova to enter the tournament for the second straight year as the top seed in the East Region.

That would mean a trip to Brooklyn for the NCAA tournament's first weekend and a trip back to the Wells Fargo Center for the Sweet 16, a friendly path to the Final Four in Houston. Get there, and the elephant will disappear along with the monkey.

"When we evaluate our program, our evaluation is based on what we do in the regular season," Wright said. "All those decisions we make about recruiting, what offenses we run, what defense, everything is based on what we did during the length of the season."

That's fine from a program standpoint, but Wright understands how the rest of the world looks at this.

"We just played an 18-game tournament over 21/2 months, and we won that tournament," the coach said. "That's the toughest tournament. Now these are what you get evaluated on. We know it. We want to have fun with this, and we want to lay it all out there, and, like you said, it's one and done. That's the difference."

It's a cold reality, but the grind of a long regular season is supposed to help prepare teams for the pressure-packed NCAA tournament. If nothing else, Wright has succeeded in getting his players in the right frame of mind for what lies ahead.

Arcidiacono, a four-year starter who has never missed a game, is the unquestioned leader of these Wildcats. He has lived through the thrill of winning those three straight regular-season titles and last year's conference championship. He has also dealt with the disappointment of the early March exits.

"It's about telling the guys what we've been telling them all year," Arcidiacono said. "If we told them anything different, it would not be the way we prepare. We prepare for one day at a time and one game at a time. If we try to do anything special because it's the Big East tournament or the NCAA tournament, everyone would be messed up and not know where they should be on the floor. If we defend and we rebound, we'll be in games because offensively we'll start making shots."

That has worked for Arcidiacono and Villanova over the long haul. The Wildcats are 109-26 since he and Ochefu arrived in the fall of 2011, and no seniors in the school's storied history have compiled a better record. That's why it was so special when they walked off the court Saturday in the game's final minutes.

"How cool is this?" Wright whispered into Arcidiacono's ear as his senior guard left the court to that standing ovation with 44.5 seconds remaining.

"He has meant everything to our program," the coach added. "You're a Philly kid and you end your college career walking off the floor of the Wells Fargo Center to a standing ovation. If you grew up in Philly, it doesn't get much better than that."

It would, however, if he was back here in a few weeks cutting down the nets before heading to Houston.

bbrookover@phillynews.

com

@brookob

Published