Skip to content
College Sports
Link copied to clipboard

Despite losing streak, Villanova shouldn't be left out of Big Dance

AS MELTDOWNS GO, the way Villanova's basketball team ended last season sure looked like it would be hard to ever surpass.

Villanova failed to make it past the first round in the Big East Tournament, losing to South Florida. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)
Villanova failed to make it past the first round in the Big East Tournament, losing to South Florida. (Ron Cortes/Staff Photographer)Read more

AS MELTDOWNS GO, the way Villanova's basketball team ended last season sure looked like it would be hard to ever surpass.

Well, it took all of 12 months to prove that theory wrong.

The 2009-10 Wildcats were 22-2. Then they lost four of their last six heading into the Big East Tournament, where they had a double bye and were beaten by Marquette in a 4-5 quarterfinal, needed overtime to move past 15th-seeded Robert Morris in their NCAA opener before being sent home by 10th-seeded St. Mary's.

Now, that seems almost tame by comparison. Because this Villanova team, after starting 16-1, has gone 5-10 to drop out of the Top 25 for the first time since the final poll of 2007-08. Those Wildcats would survive a five-game losing streak at midseason (all by double-digits) to barely make it into the Madness. Then they made it to the Sweet 16.

There are those who would tell you these Wildcats might have trouble making the Sweet 16 of the NIT. That's what happens when you lose five straight. The first four were to ranked opponents. But Tuesday they blew a 16-point halftime lead, a Big East tourney record, and lost in the closing moments to 15th-seeded South Florida, which had won nine times.

Not exactly the way to get on the good side of the selection committee.

"You couldn't have scripted what happened at Rutgers [one-point loss on four-point play at buzzer on Feb. 16], or scripted what happened [Tuesday]," coach Jay Wright said yesterday. "But that's the way it's been going. There's nothing we can do about it now, except move on to the next challenge. You don't want to learn lessons that way. It's tough because these [four] seniors haven't known anything but success."

Still, the Wildcats figure to get one of the 37 at-large bids into the 68-team NCAA field, at least according to those who compute this stuff best. This year, they've added three at-large bids, which doesn't hurt.

ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi did drop them from a 7 seed to an 11. Yet he doesn't have them as one of his last four out. Of course, nothing is etched in stone until your name is called on Sunday. But he's annually pretty accurate. And in yesterday's edition of "Bracket Math" he wrote, "Let me quickly and directly answer the most pressing question of the day: Villanova is NOT going to miss the NCAA Tournament (and this is coming from a St. Joe's guy!) . . . Villanova's seed is, and should be, very much in doubt. Its selection . . . is not."

His rationale? It's about a body of work, even though no team since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985, and most likely ever, has made it riding a five-game losing streak. Lunardi notes that Villanova has eight wins over teams that are currently in the field, three of which have come during the "allegedly fatal slide." He contends there will be plenty of teams with a "similarly mediocre profile."

Not the most ringing endorsement. But it sounds like enough, which is what counts.

Villanova hasn't missed the tourney since 2004.

Of course, any number of things could happen across the country in the next few days to alter the equation. Or perhaps the Wildcats will survive the cut and get sent to one of those play-in games in Dayton, on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Yesterday, the chair of the selection committee, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, was asked in a conference call about the weight attached to how a team finishes.

"As most people know, for a period of time we had the last 10 or the last 12 on nitty-gritty sheets," said the man who also is dealing with Jim Tressel-gate. "We decided a couple of years ago to eliminate that consideration. We leave that to each individual committee member to determine if that's an important criteria for them.

"It's not an important criteria for the entire committee. Each . . . member takes it into consideration in their own way." has Villanova's RPI at 34, with the 23rd-ranked strength of schedule. Seems about right.

Jerry Palm, the BCS guru who also projects the brackets for, lists Villanova as a 9 seed.

Both Lunardi and Palm, by the way, have Temple as a 7.

Fairly enough, Wright was asked after the USF game about his team's NCAA chances. "I purposely haven't focused on it," he said. "We haven't talked about any of it. We were concentrating on the Big East Tournament. So I know this sounds bizarre but I don't know where we stand with any of that and I will find out tomorrow, but I would say after this that there is a little concern and just have to look at the situation."

Since the last major change in the RPI formula in 2005, the team from a BCS conference with the highest number that didn't make it was Cincinnati in 2006, at 40.

In Wright's situation there are obviously other issues to worry about, such as all the things his guys messed up in the final minute against South Florida: missed free throws, one by the Big East's leading foul shooter, a horrible turnover in the backcourt by his point guard, lack of defense on the decisive basket. Did we mention that the Wildcats, after scoring 49 in the first half, had two field goals in the last 15 minutes? Or that Wright felt the need to call a timeout 44 seconds in the game and another 2:24 after intermission?

By this point a lot of that shouldn't be happening, regardless of opponent.

And at this point there's really not a lot more Wright or his players can say about it that they haven't already uttered. But, can they do anything to change their present reality by next week?

"I don't have the answer for what we are going to do next," Wright admitted at Madison Square Garden.

At the moment, there probably are a lot of teams that wouldn't mind drawing the Wildcats in their pod. Who would have thought that 6 weeks ago? Or maybe even 3?

The only known is that they have at least one game left. Most outsiders would probably say it will be their last. Logic would be on their side. Still, there's a reason they call this month Madness.

If nothing else, they will have time for Corey Stokes' left hamstring to get healthier. Ditto Corey Fisher's right knee. Tuesday was the first time in 10 games that those two and Maalik Wayns - their three double-digit scorers - each had at least 10 points. Stokes did miss four of those games with injuries (three due to turf toe).

"We take missing players into consideration, based upon the situation," Smith said. "We look at how those teams responded to the adversity they faced. But we still look at how those teams performed at the end of the day."

As for Mouphtaou Yarou, who was helped off with 4:58 to go in the first half and never returned, he has bruised right ribs and a right shoulder. He was tested at MSG for a possible concussion but showed no signs. He's scheduled to be reevaluated tomorrow. The players were given yesterday and today off.

"We have to make sure we get over this [loss]," Wright said.

And hope they can at least make something of their last chance. Wherever that might be. *