Villanova to play American at the Wachovia Center in first round of NCAA Tournament

Nathan McGann

After losing to the Big East champion Louisville Cardinals in the semifinals of the Big East tournament, the No. 13 Villanova Wildcats couldn’t wait for some uplifting news.

The NCAA selection committee delivered that news on Sunday in the form of a No. 3 seed in the East region of the NCAA tournament. Villanova’s first game, and potentially second, will be played at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia, where the team played three games this season.

Head Coach Jay Wright made note of just how important it is to start the tournament close to home.

“I didn’t want to get too excited because I didn’t want us to be crushed if we weren’t [in Philadelphia], so we didn’t really talk about it,” Wright said. “But I know everyone wanted to stay in Philly. We did this once before and to be in your hometown in the Wachovia Center, we’re really excited.”

While the thought of playing in front of a home crowd for the opening round is nothing short of incredible, the coaches and players are aware their focus must be completely on their first round opponent, the No. 14-seeded American Eagles.

“You’ve got to get past the first game – that’s the most important,” Wright said. “We know American. They had a great year in the Patriot League and really dominated the league. I know Jeff Jones, an amazing coach, so we’re going to concentrate on them.” The Eagles are coming off their second consecutive Patriot League tournament championship and the win earned them one of the automatic bids. American defeated Holy Cross 73-57 in the final.

The selection committee gave Villanova a favorable situation in terms of location and potential opponents. As a No. 3 seed, should they advance, the Wildcats will play the winner of the matchup between No. 6 seed UCLA and No. 11 seed Virginia Commonwealth.

Villanova is familiar with the team given the top seed in its bracket, fellow Big East opponent Pittsburgh Panthers. The Wildcats defeated the Panthers 67-57 at home in the final college basketball ever in the Wachovia Spectrum. Rounding out the top three teams playing for a spot in the Final Four is the No. 2 seeded Duke Blue Devils, who just defeated Florida State for their record-tying 17th ACC Championship title.

Many experts expect this tournament to be one of the more exciting in recent history due to the wide array of high caliber teams that competed throughout the regular season and conference tournaments. For the first time in tournament history, three No. 1 seeds come from the same conference: the overall No. 1 seed Louisville, Connecticut and Pitt, all of whom play in the Big East.

After playing the role of underdog last year and advancing to the Sweet 16, Villanova now has a different role – one with high expectations and hopes for postseason glory.

“It’s an honor to be one of the top seeds in the tournament,” said senior forward Dante Cunningham. “We’re going to play hard. We’re going to play together.”