The Big East Conference received the most bids in the 2013 NCAA Tournament (8), and we’re going through team-by-team previewing each one from the lowest seed to the highest.
Seed line: #9 in the South Region
First opponent: #8 North Carolina Tar Heels
Time of first game: Friday, March 22 at 7:20 PM on TNT
Player to watch: Ryan Arcidiacono – the highly touted freshman point guard has improved by leaps and bounds as the season has progressed, but now it’s time for him to display his talents on the big stage. The fact that he handled the grueling Big East schedule so well and actually got better as it went along, leads me to believe that he is up to the task as the floor general for the Wildcats.
What to know: Entering the 2012-13 season, it was well known that the Villanova Wildcats were young and were likely going to struggle. Their youth and lack of experience was best shown on November 20th in their home gym when they lost to Columbia, the same team that finished last in the Ivy League, by a not-even-close 18 points. At that juncture in the season, there was no real reason to be optimistic about what was to come. However, that proved to be rock bottom as they turned things around and only ended up taking one more bad loss on the season – a loss at Seton Hall late in conference play. And while it is impossible to quantify the impact a coach can have on a team’s performance, there is no question that Jay Wright had a lot to do with the turn-around. The Wildcats went on to beat three top-5 teams – Louisville, Syracuse, and Georgetown – and it took a team effort in each and every one of those victories, including that of the coach. And while those are all stellar victories (you can throw Marquette in there as well), all four came at home. Unfortunately for Villanova their NCAA Tournament games won’t be played in the friendly confines of the Wachovia Center, but win or lose, this season has already been deemed a success given the road they were headed down just a few months ago.
Tournament prospects: It’s not only difficult to be optimistic about Villanova given their lack of success away from home, but it is difficult in general to be excited about a team playing in the 8-9 game given that a 1-seed is looming just two days later. But fortunately for the Wildcats they get to play a team (UNC) in their first game that has been a disappointment all season. A vast amount of people will point out that the Tar Heels switched up their style a few weeks back to more of a small ball lineup that has led to increased success, but even so, their best win during that stretch (and on the season for that matter) is North Carolina St. at home – another team that has been a massive disappointment. At least the Wildcats have shown they can win against high-quality opponents, on more than one occasion. But these two teams are similar in that neither has a single noteworthy win on the road, while the squads are both also fairly inexperienced. The Tar Heels did make a deep run in last year’s NCAA Tournament, before it was derailed with the injury to Kendall Marshall, but that was a totally difference squad with the current players acting mainly as spectators from the bench. My guess is that most people will be siding with North Carolina primarily based on name recognition along with the belief that Villanova’s resume was boosted with a few fluke victories at home. But watch for this game to be much closer that most expect, especially with the premier coaches on each respective bench.