‘Cats rewrite tournament story



Larry Flynn

March 13, 2014.

3.7 seconds on the game clock.

Villanova is up by one, with Seton Hall inbounding from the sideline.

Sterling Gibbs cuts to the ball at the top of the key, takes two dribbles to his left, steps back with his left foot on the three point line. 

The ball begins its magnificent arc, leaving the tips of Gibbs’ fingertips just in time for Darrun Hilliard to extend his left hand to contest the jump shot. 

It kisses the inside of the net just as the buzzer sounds its triumphant bellow, just as the crowd erupts into a piercing roar.

Tony Chennault places his hands on his head and whispers, “damn.” He would never face off against another conference opponent in his career.

Ryan Arcidiacono leans forward to grab his knees. He stares at the hardwood, exhausted from the toll of his second full season in the Big East.

It’s cool to pick against Villanova. The Wildcats have no superstar, no NBA prospects, and aren’t featured on ESPN.

The Wildcats lost last year in the second round to a No. 7 seed and even managed to let the game remain close against the No. 15 seed. The year before that, Villanova lost to North Carolina, reaffirming the conventional wisdom that teams in “power conferences” really are better than the new era Big East teams. 

Did the haters forget about the Maalik Wayns, Isaiah Armwood recruiting faux-pas? Absolutely not, just as everyone seems to remember Villanova almost losing to Robert Morris in the first round during Scotty Reynolds’ senior year. 

When Villanova stormed through the Big East this season, the national media and fans were not impressed. The Wildcats have impressed in the regular season, they said, but can they win in the tournament when the lights are brightest and the stakes are highest?

They ask what makes this team any different than another other Villanova team in the past?




“They’ve been through so much,” Head Coach Jay Wright said exactly one year after Villanova’s heartbreak to Seton Hall in the 2014 Big East Tournament. “Our top seven guys have already played and lost in the Big East tournament, played in the NCAA tournament. That’s not something to be taken lightly.”

Wright’s team had just squeezed out a victory against Providence at Madison Square Garden. It wasn’t a pretty finish, and Friars fans might still wish to debate the final call, which sent Big East Co-Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono to the free throw line for a pair of game-winning free throws. 

But, nevertheless, Villanova was able to pull out the victory against a high quality Big East opponent.

Not a regular season victory, but a postseason victory.

“We kept our composure and pulled it out, that’s what it takes,” Wright said after the Providence win. “It’s guts, a great resiliency to keep going.”

Wright said that while he never enjoys close games in the moment, he always comes to appreciate these last-second battles as teaching moments for his team.

These Wildcats, however, don’t need any teaching moments at this stage in the season. They’ve already been well-schooled in heartbreak, coming up short when the buzzer sounds.

“Villanova is a senior-laden team,” Providence Head Coach Ed Cooley said. “They have a lot of guys who have played in big games.”


Josh Hart.


Josh Hart’s jump shot isn’t the prettiest sight.

Hart will jump high in the air, seemingly kicking his legs together into a crooked line. He raises the ball above his head and then, with the swift flick of the wrist, the ball sails through the air and into the hoop. 

Then again, nothing about Hart’s game is meant to look beautiful. It’s supposed to be rugged and edgy, like heavy rock music, as opposed to the sweet jazz of Scottie Reynolds’ jump shot. 

Hart’s Big East Tournament Most Outstanding Player trophy, however, glistened under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden.

With his name etched alongside Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin, Hart averaged 17.5 points per game to lead the Wildcats to three consecutive victories over some of the conferences’ toughest opponents.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but I have to thank my teammates,” Hart said after winning the award. “When you have the confidence of your teammates, you just go out there and have fun.”

Selflessly, Hart has gotten the job done as the sixth man for this Villanova basketball team all season long.

But the regular season doesn’t matter.

All that mattered was that, over a three game postseason stretch, Hart was the best player on the best team in the conference. 

“There’s something special about [Hart], he’s good enough to be a starter,” Wright said. “His parents told him ‘be the best sixth man you can be.’”

Every time Hart steps to the podium, he talks about “playing Villanova basketball.” This year, Villanova basketball doesn’t end on the final game of the regular season.

It ends in March.



Xavier lost the Big East championship game to Villanova in pre-game introductions.

The newly renovated speakers of Madison Square Garden blasted Biggie’s “Hypnotize” as Dylan Ennis high-fived each of his teammates while roaring at the top of his lungs with a passion we had rarely seen from this Villanova team. 

Earlier on this year, Hilliard screamed after an and-one play at the Pavillion against Seton Hall. JayVaughn Pinkston gave the ball a mean stare after his block against Michigan. Other than these isolated instances, the Wildcats didn’t always show that much emotion.

On Saturday night, when the Wildcats were looking to win the Big East Tournament for the first time since 1995, Ennis and his teammates showed passion, tenacity, and grit.

Kris Jenkins, an underrated defender, screamed ‘yeah!’ three times before giving Daniel Ochefu an emphatic high-five after taking a charge. 

Arcidiacono and Hilliard both dove for a loose ball with under five minutes left in a 20-point blowout. 

“These guys are special players, but also special Villanovans,” Wright said. “This has a chance to be the best team I’ve ever coached.”


March 14, 2015.


3.7 seconds left on the ticking clock. 

Villanova is up by 17, and the ball is in Pat Farrell’s hands. 

Ennis holds up the “2015 Champs” banner, turning it to face the rowdy band. Hilliard jumps up and down, screaming as if to release the stress, the pressure of past failures.

The team runs around the baseline to show off its new banner to the Villanova fans on the opposite side of the court. 

Somehow, with a three-star recruit holding the Most Outstanding Player trophy, with Father Peter Donohue’s wide-eyed, ear-to-ear grin on the jumbotron, with the head coach shedding visible tears of joy, the 2015 Villanova Wildcats cemented their place in history. 

This team’s quest isn’t over.

“Villanova has a legitimate shot at winning the Tournament,” Xavier’s Head Coach Chris Mack said postgame.

“We aren’t Kentucky in terms of talent and depth, but we could beat them,” Wright said following the championship game. 

Stay tuned. For this experienced, selfless, and passionate group of Wildcats, the best could be yet to come.