Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

'Nova's lesson from last year

The Wildcats’ early ouster courtesy of UConn taught them not to play with a fear of failure.

Villanova seniors Darrun Hilliard (left) and JayVaughn Pinkston. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)
Villanova seniors Darrun Hilliard (left) and JayVaughn Pinkston. (Charles Fox/Staff Photographer)Read more

SOMETIMES FAILURE can be a great teacher.

It wasn't that Villanova was overwhelmed last year when it received a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. But there is no doubt that there is a different kind of pressure that comes with being one of the tourney favorites.

It's hard to say that the Wildcats succumbed to that pressure in 2014 - not when seventh-seeded Connecticut, the team that upset 'Nova in the second round, went on a miracle run to win the NCAA title.

Still, sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you find out you don't know it. In the case of the NCAA Tournament, finding out that lesson usually means an early exit.

When the pairings for the 2015 NCAA Tournament were announced on Sunday, the Wildcats were certainly excited to be included with Kentucky, Duke and Wisconsin as one of the four No. 1 seeds. But experience has taught them that once the games actually start, seeding doesn't mean anything.

"We know the things that come along with being a top seed," Villanova senior Darrun Hilliard said. "We learned last year as a No. 2 seed and now we're a No. 1 seed.

"I think experience is one of the greatest aspects of this team."

Now, there is not much chance that the Wildcats (32-2) will become the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 16 tomorrow in Pittsburgh when they face Lafayette (20-12), their neighbor to the north that is coached by former Villanova player and Penn assistant, Fran O'Hanlon.

Still, some pundits have pegged the Wildcats, who are ranked No. 2 nationally, as the most vulnerable of the No. 1 seeds.

After Lafayette, 'Nova will play the winner of the 8-9 game between North Carolina State and Louisiana State.

"I don't think this team fears anything this year," Wildcats coach Jay Wright said. "They've already failed. They failed last year in some ways.

"They realized their world didn't end and they came back. I think they've approached everything that way, every big game, and every situation where they were expected to win; they just went out and played with confidence and no fear of failure.

"I think they are just concentrating on competing. They'll put it all on the line."

There are red flags, but then there are red flags with any team - even undefeated and top overall seed Kentucky.

"Unbeatable" is just a word at tournament time. It almost always comes down to matchups, and if you get the wrong matchup on the wrong day, your tournament could end just like that.

That's pretty much what happened a year ago against Connecticut.

"We experienced the Connecticut loss last year," Villanova sophomore Josh Hart said. "We have to keep getting better. We can never get complacent."

There is a different dynamic with this team.

Considering Villanova's long history in the NCAA Tournament includes a national championship and three Final Fours, it may be hard to believe that this is just the second time since the Wildcats joined the original Big East in 1980 that they have entered the NCAA coming off a victory.

But winning the program's second Big East Tournament title was just part of the process of the journey the Wildcats are looking to take all the way to the Final Four in Indianapolis.

"I don't worry about this team getting too confident," Wright said. "Because of what this group went through last year - losing in the first round of the Big East Tournament, losing in the second round of the NCAAs, I don't worry about these guys."

With a school-record 32 wins, a Big East Tournament championship and the program's second No. 1 NCAA seeding, the 'Cats have already put together one of those magical seasons.

But then again, so was the 2013-14 season when the Wildcats were 29-4 and a game away from the Sweet 16 until UConn came along.

"I think we all know you get judged a great deal by what you do in the NCAA Tournament," said Wright, who has taken a team to a Final Four but had others lose in the first round. "I don't think it's necessarily how far you got but how you compete.

"We went to a Final Four, an Elite Eight and Sweet 16s. There were other years where we got knocked out early and you feel you didn't reach your potential.

"We all wear these wristbands that say, 'Hungry and Humble.' That's how we want to live and how we want to approach basketball. I think that's what this group does."