In an ordinary college basketball season - defined for our purposes here as one in which the NCAA doesn't hold postseason tournament games in Philadelphia - Villanova plays either five or six "home" games at the Wells Fargo Center, usually against higher-profile opponents.
The school can sell more tickets to those games, make more money, create a large, hostile environment for important opponents, and put on a big-time show that gets the attention of potential recruits. There's not a single downside in an ordinary season.
The 2015-16 season wasn't one of those, however, because the East Regional will be held at the Wells Fargo Center during the second weekend of the tournament, and that was a set of home games that Villanova really wanted to have. Because of that, the Wildcats scheduled just three games in the Center during the regular season, the NCAA limit for a site to be considered neutral.
"It was a difficult decision just to play those three games there. We said, 'Are we really going to change what we do for the chance?' And it was really 50/50," coach Jay Wright said. "But we finally thought, 'If you do have that chance, you might as well do it. We might not have the chance again for 50 years.' We knew we were just doing it so we didn't look back and say what-if. We were never counting on it."
Easy to say now, but somewhere early in the evening on Saturday, the Wildcats were counting on it. When they held the lead and the ball against Seton Hall with less than 30 seconds to play, just that close to a championship in the Big East tournament, the chance that was taken with the schedule more than a year ago looked like it would pay off.
"I have confidence that if we had won that game, we'd have been in Philadelphia. But we didn't," Wright said Sunday night after the selection committee put the Wildcats on the road for the length of their tournament. "Now it's all a part of the season and how you handle it."
Just in the space of those last 30 seconds on Saturday night, Villanova dropped from a No. 1 to a No. 2 seed, and dropped out of contention to stay in the East Regional. The selection committee obviously felt it was unfair to put ACC champion North Carolina - the second overall seed in the entire 68-team field - into a regional that might require it to play for a spot in the Final Four against a team with a huge potential home-court advantage. (Not that the same thing hasn't happened many times in Greensboro and Raleigh, but nevertheless.)
"We'd definitely rather be in Philly, but we've done that before and there are a lot of distractions," Wright said. "They are almost overwhelming, but when the game starts, [the arena] is an advantage."
Villanova has to win two games before the location of the regional even matters. The Wildcats start in Brooklyn for those two games - against UNC-Asheville and the winner of Temple-Iowa - before the schedule would send them the 675 miles to the South Regional in Louisville instead of the 20 miles to South Philly.
As has been mentioned more than a few times, Villanova's recent history makes it far from certain that the Wildcats will escape Brooklyn intact. They have failed to reach the second weekend in each of their five previous NCAA appearances despite being a No. 1 or 2 seed in three of those tournaments.
"We just want to get the elephant out of the room and everyone knows what that is," senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. "But if we don't prepare like we have all season, we aren't going to have the opportunity to get past that game."
Getting past both games this weekend would put Villanova in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, and then, only then, would the end of the Seton Hall game really matter.
The bracket "makes losing to Seton Hall a little more of a stinger," guard Josh Hart said. "Obviously, we wanted to be in Philadelphia, but we do love being on the road. In Philly, you'd have your family and all your friends, your classmates. On the road, it's just you and your brothers and you get that vibe that it's you against everybody else."
Villanova altered its schedule twice before and limited Wells Fargo Center games to comply with the NCAA's definition of a home arena. The Wildcats hit on those chances, and played their opening two games there in both 2006 and 2009. The first team, which went to the Elite 8 behind Allen Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, eased past Monmouth and Arizona. The 2009 team, which would eventually reach the Final Four, nearly had a disaster as it opened against American University and trailed by 14 points midway through the second half before recovering to win. Two days later, the Wildcats beat up on UCLA and were relieved to get out of town.
This time, we'll never know how "home" games would have treated Villanova in the tournament. They didn't make the plan work this time. Now they get to see if they can make something else happen instead, and that might be the best plan of all.