PITTSBURGH - Villanova didn't fall off the cliff on Thursday night. Some day, some year, there will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament that misjudges the edge and tumbles against a No. 16 seed, but it wasn't the Wildcats this time, this year.
Beyond that, nothing was determined during Villanova's 93-52 win over an outmatched Lafayette team that couldn't solve its problems at either end of the floor. The NCAA run might have started Thursday for Villanova, but there was no danger of its ending. That part of the tournament is over now, however.
Perhaps it is an unfair measurement, because the Wildcats will be playing a good team on Saturday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16, but the success and failure of the whole season - at least how it will be viewed over time - is riding on the outcome of this next game.
If the Wildcats don't get to the second weekend, which they haven't done since the Final Four season in 2009, it won't matter that they won 33 games and the Big East regular season and conference tournament, that they earned the second-highest seed in the NCAA tournament, or that they had a 16-game winning streak begin Jan. 25.
In fact, those accomplishments will mock their sudden elimination if Villanova can't get past No. 8-seeded North Carolina State. It isn't fair, because this is a great Villanova team, but lasting greatness is handed out in direct proportion to how far a team can travel into the jaws of March.
"It's definitely a difference for coaches once you get to the second weekend. Everybody's pleased with you. If you don't, you know they're going to question you. It's something you have to deal with," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
That's the challenge, and Wright said it's fun to be a part of it. Of course, it's an awful lot more fun when you win. Thursday night against Lafayette, the Wildcats were able to display their versatility and the myriad ways they can control a game. For much of the night, Villanova went small with four guards on the court to deal with Lafayette's desire for a quick-switching offense and an array of shooters around the perimeter. When the Wildcats did play bigger, with both Daniel Ochefu and JayVaughn Pinkston on the court, Villanova penetrated the ball and let the big men work around the rim.
Shooting very well, controlling the boards, and limiting Lafayette's looks at the basket, Villanova led by 23 at the half, extended that lead to more than 40 points midway through the second half, and easily avoided the ignominy that is a possibility in all these matchups. Wright actually switched up to a rare zone defense late in the going to take his foot off the accelerator slightly.
"Getting that first win in the NCAA tournament is difficult because there's a lot of pressure on you," Wright said. "I actually think playing a 16-seed that did not have a play-in game is better than playing one that did. In the other case, you're getting a team that already got a game under its belt and won and has confidence."
Lafayette was one-and-done in its first tournament since 2000, without a chance to build anything resembling confidence at any point of Thursday's game. The same can't be said for N.C. State, which held off a talented LSU team in the 8 vs. 9 game of the East Regional.
"We've been in this situation before. I remember we played Arizona in the 8-9 game in the Wells Fargo Center [as a No. 1 seed in 2006] and I remember thinking that if this game wasn't in the Wells Fargo Center, we wouldn't have beaten this team," Wright said. "LSU and North Carolina State have both been playing their best ball right now, both got hot at the end of the season. That's the NCAA tournament. It's about matchups, and you're going to get a good team."
N.C. State is going to get a good team, too, maybe a great one. But that hasn't been determined yet. In the harsh judgment of history, the minimum expectation for greatness from a highly-seeded team is getting to the second weekend and sweetness of that tournament round. One more win and Villanova is there, but one more loss means something else entirely. It means the season. Other than that, it should be easy.