Villanova looks to rewrite history against Iowa



Eugene Rapay

Villanova has made it back to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year.

The last couple of trips to the tournament haven’t gone so well, with the Wildcats falling short of the Sweet 16 after being dealt upset losses.

Since last season’s loss as a No. 1 seed to North Carolina State, Jay Wright and his team have been badgered with questions regarding their ability to get past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a great learning experience for our guys,” Wright said. “I wish we could teach it to them another way than losing in the NCAA Tournament, but they’re learning that you have to accept the circumstances of being in the limelight and getting praise, and you have to take the hits with that.”

Now that Villanova is back in the Round of 32, the Wildcats’ senior captains Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu have one last chance to put their stamp on their legacy.

They are already part of the winningest class in program history, leading the Wildcats to 112 victories since they first set foot on the Main Line.

While they have helped Villanova attain a lot of success in the months that lead up to March, earning three Big East regular season titles and one conference tournament championship, the Wildcats have not been able to translate that momentum into postseason success. This has been the case especially when it comes to the NCAA Tournament.

“Everyone has the right to think what they want, say what they want,” Arcidiacono said. “We played in those games. We haven’t come through in the second round of the tournament. I can’t really tell people how they should look at our senior class or myself in particular. They have the right to think of us how they want to.”

Now they have a chance at earning redemption by taking the Wildcats to the Sweet 16, which would be their first since 2009. A loss on Sunday would be devastating and would be just another addition to the recent line of disappointing early exits.

Villanova (30-5) will be taking on a familiar foe in a Sunday matinee.

It will take on 7-seed Iowa (22-10). Like Villanova, Iowa is just as hungry to make it to the second weekend. The Hawkeyes haven’t reached the Sweet 16 since 1999, when it lost to eventual national champion UConn as a 5-seed.

Sunday marks the first meeting between the two teams since Nov. 30, 2013, when Villanova took down Iowa in overtime in order to claim the Battle 4 Atlantis title.

The upperclassmen on both teams were just freshmen or sophomores then and now they will meet again on a bigger stage.

“It was a fun game to play in,” said Iowa’s senior point guard Mike Gesell about the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game. “Villanova is a team that’s going to battle you. It’s going to be a physical game.  They’re never out of a game because of the way they shoot the three. So you’ve got to have a concerted effort defensively for the entire 40 minutes.”

Gone are the days of Devyn Marble and Andrew White, the Hawkeyes now look to Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok to do most of the damage.

Uthoff, a second round NBA Draft prospect, has racked up various accolades during his senior year. He averaged 18.9 points per game (second-highest in the Big Ten), 6.5 rebounds per game, and a conference-best 2.7 blocks per game.

For his play on the court, he was named First Team All-Big Ten and First Team All-America.

Uthoff is a bruising forward that is problematic on both ends of the court. He can post up and go up with the ball strong. He can even pull up from beyond the arc and drain his shots from long range. On the other end of the court, his ability to play defense is often not widely discussed as much as his scoring talents, but he is a solid defender in the post.

“We don’t have a guy that’s has that length and strong enough,” Wright said. “Mikal [Bridges] is long, but he’s real thin. If he takes us up and posts us up at the basket, he’s going to cause real trouble. On the other end, it’s difficult to post him up.”

It also helps Uthoff and the Hawkeyes having 7-foot-1 center Adam Woodbury to help out in the paint. Iowa’s formidable frontcourt will clean up the boards and clog up the interior, giving opponents who wish to take the ball inside problems.

After all, it was an offensive rebound and a putback layup at the buzzer by Woodbury that allowed for Iowa to move onto the next round in an overtime win against Temple.

However, Fran McCaffery’s team is far from being one-dimensional. Junior guard Peter Jok, who was named Second Team All-Big Ten, provides a true perimeter threat.

The 6-foot-6 guard is right behind Uthoff in scoring with 16.2 points per game and has made 41.2 percent of his shots from long range.

For Villanova to advance, it will certainly need to limit what Uthoff and Jok can do. The Wildcats have heard all of the chatter that surrounds this second round game, now they have a chance to make the Sweet 16 a reality.

“We’re just extremely excited to be able to play in our second game in this tournament,” Ochefu said. “Everybody’s been talking about this game for the whole year, even in the summertime before the season started. So, the fact that the game is here, we can finally just get it done. Hopefully, we’ll get the win, and people will stop talking about it.”