The men’s basketball team gathered in the Davis Center Sunday night wondering if they would get invited to the Big Dance. As a bubble team, Selection Sunday brought significant apprehension. Finally, their name was called and the young team erupted in celebration.
“We put ourselves in a position where we had to leave it up to the committee,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “We’re thrilled to be in the NCAA tourney.”
The Wildcats were selected as the No. 12-seed in the Midwest region. They will face off against the No. 5-seed Clemson Tigers on Friday in Tampa, Fla., 30 minutes after the Vanderbilt vs. Siena game. Clemson, with Head Coach Oliver Purnell, finished with a 24-9 record this year and was the runner-up to UNC in the ACC Final, 86-81. The Tigers finished third in the ACC during the regular season with a 10-6 conference record. Clemson is an athletic team that can score at will. They averaged 79.5 points per game this season, while holding their opponents to an average of 69.6. The Tigers have a balanced offensive attack with five players averaging double figures. Junior guard K.C. Rivers leads the team with 14.7 points per game, while sophomore forward Trevor Booker paced the team with 7.4 rebounds.
Wright admitted that he had not seen much of Clemson outside of the ACC Final and that his players seemed to know more about the Tigers than he did. Most notably, sophomore captain Scottie Reynolds has played with several of the Tigers in basketball camps during the summer.
After finishing the season 20-12, including a 9-9 conference record, the Wildcats were far from being guaranteed a bid to the tournament. As things turned out, they had done just enough this season to make it. Villanova is the team with the lowest seeding to receive an at-large bid instead of winning their conference tournament; essentially, they were the last team selected to the NCAA tournament.
The team benefited from a handful of bubble teams losing early in their conference tournaments. With each loss, Villanova’s chances looked better.
“This year probably more than any other year, it’s been so wild,” Wright said.
Aside from getting help from losing teams across the country, Villanova may have to be most grateful for playing in the Big East Conference. More than half of the 16-team conference made the tournament – two more than any other conference in America. Within conference play this season, Villanova knocked off fellow tournament teams Pittsburgh, Connecticut and West Virginia.
With the field now set, the team is relieved to have the anxiety of being a bubble team disappear.
“We’re excited to be in this position now and we’re anxious to get to practice tomorrow,” Reynolds said.
This is the Wildcats’ fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament. It is the first time a Villanova team has done that since their run of seven straight appearances from ’80-’86. If the Wildcats get by Clemson on Friday, they will play the winner of Vanderbilt-Siena on Sunday.