Understanding the overall impact of Villanova's defeat
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
There is nothing worse for a sports fan than to have their favorite team disappointingly fall short of expectations. I live and bleed Philly sports, so disappointment is nothing new to me. However, that feeling of sadness I felt this past Saturday night after the failure from one of my favorite teams to live up to the expectations was like no pain I had felt before.
This past Saturday night, the Villanova Wildcats became the first No. 1 seed to go down in this year's NCAA Tournament after losing to No. 8 NC State 71-68 in the Round of 32. Villanova came into the contest having won 16 straight games and playing like a team determined to make the Final Four in Indianapolis. Along the way, the Wildcats had captured their second straight Big East regular season title and first Big East Tournament championship since 1995. Villanova's chances of winning a national championship this season were as good as they could ever be. Anything less than a Sweet 16 or Elite Eight appearance would be disappointing.
So it was not a surprise when people yelled and screamed "What the heck (we'll use heck as a clean substitute for something else) just happened?!" after the Wildcats were sent home much earlier than many expected. Coming into the tournament, Villanova knew whoever its Round of 32 opponent (either NC State or LSU) would be very formidable.
While Villanova could not make a shot on Saturday against an average-at-best NC State defense, the Wolfpack absolutely mauled the Wildcats on the glass and in the paint all night. When 'Nova had scored 70 points or more in games this season, the Wildcats were undefeated. If you don't rebound, control the paint, and make shots, you just won't win in basketball. It may sound very simple, but it's so true. Instead of Villanova advancing to the Sweet 16 in Syracuse, NC State will now have the opportunity to potentially win the East Region this coming weekend.
The disappointment felt after Saturday night's loss in Pittsburgh could be felt everywhere throughout 'Nova Nation. For those outside of the Villanova community, the now world-famous "Villanova Piccolo Girl" crying at the end of the game while playing her instrument pretty much sums it all up. She might be more famous now than our own head coach.
For a school like Villanova that does not have big-time college football like most other schools, basketball is what drives the athletic culture at this Catholic university just outside Philadelphia. As a result of that, Villanova was left out of the Power 5 conference movement and forced to establish a new Big East with fellow "basketball-first" schools that were going to get eaten alive by the ever-changing landscape of collegiate athletics.
The college basketball culture in Philadelphia is rich with history, and Villanova is right at the epicenter of that. Basketball is what brings together the entire student body and school community, no matter what one's area of study or extracurricular activities may be. At the end of the day, all of the students bleed Blue and White and love the 'Nova Nation.
Sadness, anger, disappointment, and disbelief were just some of the feelings students had after that loss. It didn't matter if you were a freshman just beginning your Villanova career or a senior seeing your Wildcats play for the final time as a student; everyone felt the pain.
From the team's perspective, the impact of the loss could not be any greater. Saturday's loss marked the fifth straight time that Villanova has made the Big Dance and failed to make it out of the first weekend alive. The last time the Wildcats made it to the Sweet 16 was back in 2009 when Villanova went all the way to the Final Four, only to lose to the eventual champion North Carolina Tar Heels. Since the iconic Scottie Reynolds game-winning layup in the Elite Eight that year over Pittsburgh, it has either been a first or second round exit for the Wildcats.
Being a No. 1 or 2 seed has been very unkind to Villanova over the last decade. When the Wildcats were the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region back in 2006, Villanova was knocked out in the Elite Eight by the eventual national champion Florida Gators. In 2010, the No. 2 seed Wildcats were sent home by the Gaels of St. Mary's in the second round. As most recently as last season, No. 2 seed Villanova was defeated in the Round of 32 by the eventual national champion UConn Huskies. With this year's loss, make that four disappointing finishes as a one or two seed over the last decade.
Of course, the loss will have a greater impact on the view of Villanova outside of the program rather than from within. The players, coaches, school, and students know what this program and team are all about. As a matter of fact, the Greater Philly area and the Big East know how special this Wildcats team was this season. It's what the critics, or "experts" as they like to call themselves, will say that will grab all the national headlines.
Despite having a tremendous season highlighted by wins over tournament teams like VCU, Butler, Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, and Xavier, many people barely gave Villanova the respect it deserved for its magnificent season. Being constantly overlooked all season, the Wildcats had a chip on their shoulder all year to prove they belonged with the best in college basketball.
Now that Villanova failed to reach the Sweet 16 once again, the loss has only given more fuel to those who disparaged 'Nova all season for playing in a weaker conference compared to, let's say, the ACC where NC State hails from. What also does not help is the fact that five of the six ACC teams remain in the tournament, while only one Big East team (Xavier) made it through the first weekend.
Historically, this Villanova team will no doubt go down as one of the greatest of all-time for their 33-3 record and Big East regular season and tournament championships. However, as Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun once said, winning the "real tournament" is what actually matters at the end of the day.
As a Villanova fan since the day I was born, I have seen my fair share of ups and downs from the Wildcats. Saturday night's loss to NC State definitely ranks up there in the top three for most-disappointing moments as a Villanova fan, alongside that Elite Eight loss to Florida in 2006 and the infamous Sweet 16 loss to North Carolina in 2005 when Allan Ray was called for a travel that he never committed. Honorable mention goes to the 2010 loss to St. Mary's and 2011 first round loss to George Mason.
But what I have loved most about Villanova basketball over the years are the unforgettable memories these teams never fail to make. Whether it was the 2005 team that helped put Villanova basketball back on the national map, the 2009 team that surprisingly went all the way to the Final Four, or this year's team that captured the school's first Big East Tournament title in 20 years, the memories are nothing short of amazing.
The guys don't play for the name on the back of the jersey; they play for the name on the front. The team embodies what the school is all about, and the students feel connected to the players on the team. That's something that can't be replaced.
And it is because of that I have the utmost confidence this team will come back stronger than ever next year. The Wildcats bring in a terrific recruiting class headlined by five-star point guard Jalen Brunson, along with four-star guard Donte DiVincenzo and four-star power forward Tim Delaney.
Unfortunately, the Wildcats will be losing two incredible senior leaders in guard Darrun Hilliard and forward JayVaughn Pinkston who poured their heart and soul into this program every time they took the floor. On the plus side, Villanova will return a plethora of veteran players with more NCAA Tournament and big-game experience on the resume now. Guys like co-Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono, big man Daniel Ochefu, and guard Dylan Ennis will be counted on greatly next season.
The season may not have ended the way Villanova wanted it to, but it sure was a great season for the Wildcats. No one should be anything less than extremely proud of this team for how well they played all season.
Have no fear 'Nova Nation, head coach Jay Wright will have this team back in the Big Dance next season and hopefully in contention for a national championship again. October cannot come soon enough.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He covers Villanova Athletics for his school newspaper The Villanovan and school TV station VillanovaTV. He also has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph