PROVIDENCE, R.I. - No one outside the tight confines of the Villanova basketball program really knows what Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher did to lose their starting assignments in yesterday's NCAA tournament opener, but it seems a fairly safe guess they didn't sneak out of the hotel for some extra shooting practice.

Reynolds and Fisher, benched by Jay Wright at the start of the game for what Wright described as a minor infraction, combined to score 10 points from the floor against Robert Morris, an offensive slump that nearly sentenced the No. 2 seed Wildcats to a first-round embarrassment.

Whether the poor play was related to the discipline (or the infraction) or was caused by a quick, clinging Robert Morris defense is open to debate. Had Villanova lost, the debate would be a lot louder, rather than a minor grumble beneath the surface of another survive-and-advance afternoon in the championship tournament.

"When I made the decision not to start those two, part of the decision making was, 'If we lose this game, that's the reason everybody will pick on,' " Jay Wright said after the 73-70 overtime win. "But it's just what we do. There are certain absolutes. And they're not big deals, but to us they are."

Well, fine. Jay Wright and Villanova get to run the program how they please, and it's hard to argue with the success they have had. It's also hard to argue that this season has seen a significant amount of disciplinary issues for the Wildcats. Reggie Redding, Corey Stokes and Taylor King each had their moments earlier this season and, yesterday, the starting backcourt ran afoul of some rule or other.

Is this a program that is simply very strict, or one that is starting to have a lot more problems than previously?

"I guess if you were seeing the same incident or the same thing with everybody, it would be a little different," Reynolds said. "But everything is isolated. It's bad decisions here and there. The thing with me and Corey is that it's more about the program. It's more about teaching the guys that everybody is the same."

The NCAA tournament is a good place for that lesson, and the Colonials made a good case for universal equality in the opener. If Reynolds hadn't augmented his spotty outside shooting with 15 points (on 16 attempts) at the line, the Wildcats would be taking the walk of shame across campus this morning.

If you look at this game from the standpoint of Robert Morris, the outcome was, in large part, the result of the No. 15 seed getting hosed by the officials. When there were no easy inside baskets to be found, and their outside shots were totally unreliable, Villanova took the ball inside, drew some contact and went to the line. From a desperate spot midway through the second half, trailing by 42-34, the Wildcats scored 23 of their final 39 points at the line.

Two Robert Morris starters and the sixth man fouled out of the game during that span, the other three starters had to bump along with four fouls, and the Colonials were without either of their point guards for the final four minutes of regulation and the overtime – against the No. 9 team in the nation. This is the same Robert Morris team that lost to Albany, a school whose RPI ranks it 299th of 347 Division I teams.

Say what you will about the nature of the NCAA tournament, and about how all these teams are pretty good on a given day, Villanova still stunk it up yesterday. The defense was fine but with Reynolds marginalized, the offense slowed to a standstill.

The Wildcats had to be encouraged by the play of first-year big men Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton, but that won't pay the bills against St. Mary's in the next round. The Gaels, unlike the Colonials, have some size of their own. If Villanova doesn't get to the second weekend, transition year or not, this season will not be viewed as a success.

"If we can win this next game and get some practices, we've got a chance to get better," Wright said. "But I don't know if we're ready for this next game."

He was thinking out loud, but knew what he had just seen. He had just seen his team play another uneven game, one they were very lucky to have won. The last solid 40-minute performance, according to Wright, came on Feb. 8 at West Virginia.

"That's a long time ago," Wright said.

So, it's no wonder that Wright said he found himself thinking about next season at times yesterday, taking it all in on a day in which the veterans made rookie mistakes and the rookies played occasionally like veterans.

Two of the veterans made a rookie mistake that took them out of the starting lineup and Wright made them pay the price. Some other coaches might have looked the other way but Wright chose to make the point. It isn't about one player or one game or one season, he said.

"I've got to protect the sanctity of the program," he said.

That might sound a little highfalutin, but they all appear to believe it. The ideals endure even as the players come and go and the seasons come and go.

Judging by yesterday's game, the current season will be going any time now.