PITTSBURGH - In 2010, after Villanova lost to St. Mary's in its second game in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2 seed, Jay Wright talked about how, at a lot of places, that wouldn't be such a good thing.

But by that point he'd certainly banked more than enough credibility chips on the Main Line: four trips to the second week in the previous five seasons, including one run to the Final Eight and a spot in the national semifinals. And all four times, the Wildcats had been eliminated by the eventual champion.

St. Mary's obviously ended that streak. Still, as unexpected as that early exit was for a team that had started 20-1 and been ranked No. 2, it was mostly viewed as one of those things that can, well, happen.

Now, maybe not as much.

That's because the Wildcats haven't been to the second week since 2009. Last March they lost in their second game as a No. 2 seed, to Connecticut, which also would win it all.

At 33-2, they've already set a program record for wins. They won their first Big East tourney title in 2 decades. They've won their last 16 straight, another program best. They're the top seed in the East Regional. They just beat Lafayette by 41, their 27th double-digit win.

Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center they'll play North Carolina State (21-13), which rallied late to beat LSU literally at the buzzer on Thursday. The Wolfpack has beaten Duke and won at Louisville and North Carolina. They've also lost to Clemson, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College. So who knows? It's the Madness.

But one thing seems pretty apparent: fair or whatever, the Wildcats really have to win this game. Or else they're going to have questions to answer, despite all the historic stuff that came before. It's that simple. And nobody gets that more than the guy in charge.

"I know to everyone at Villanova, the people we care about, it's important," Wright acknowledged. "They expect it. And so do we. We've been in this long enough. You can't fear failure. We're the No. 1 seed. So yeah, it would be devastating if we didn't go on.

"I don't think it has as much to do with last year and just being a 1 seed. That's all part of the tournament. Every other 1 seed has the same expectations. We can't run away from that. We've got to live with it, because it's there. That's fine. You want to be in this position. That's what you work all season for. If we don't get it done, we'll hear about it. We accept that."

The only other time the Wildcats were a No. 1, in 2006, they won three games before losing to a Florida team that would hoist the trophy that year and the next. This group has won 62 of its last 69 and yet somehow still has something to prove. Getting to Syracuse for next Friday's Sweet 16 round would figure to rectify a bunch of that.

" @mikekerndn