Sports

Former Champs Fall in Round of 32- Wildcats take early departure in NCAA Tourney

      For the Villanova Wildcats, the 2015-16 season was one to remember. Led by four-year starter, captain and Langhorne, Pennsylvania native Ryan Arcidiacono, the Wildcats started the season ranked no. 11 in the AP Poll with high expectations after a Round of 32 departure in the NCAA Tournament the previous year by NC State. Jay Wright, who has been the Wildcats’ head coach since the turn of the century, had brought his team to the Final Four back in 2009 but had never reached the national championship game. Other players like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Daniel Ochefu were part of the core that defined Villanova’s run. Ending up with a 27-4 record heading into the conference tournament, the Wildcats were destined to have a no. 1 seed if they ran the table and won the Big East.

      However, Seton Hall had other plans as they defeated them in the championship game. Even so, this loss did not dash Villanova’s tournament hopes, as they received an at-large bid and placed as a second seed in the South Region that included college basketball powerhouses like Kansas, Connecticut and Arizona. Villanova won all of their games to reach the Regional Final against Kansas, where they barely beat them to reach the Final Four for the first time since 2009. Many people thought that they could go somewhere they had never been since 1985: to win a National Championship. The Final Four game against Oklahoma was a precursor to what was to come as the Wildcats made 71 percent of their shots to beat the Sooners by 44 points, a Final Four record. Villanova would then face the North Carolina Tar Heels two days later for all the marbles. (To all you Tar Heel fans on campus: this will bring back bad memories of yesteryear, so bear with me.) It became an instant classic as both teams fought back and forth throughout. The defining moment came in the final seconds as Marcus Paige of North Carolina hit an almost impossible three-pointer to tie the game at 74. And then it happened. With 4.7 seconds left, Arcidiacono dribbled up court and passed the ball to Jenkins, who made the buzzer beater for Villanova’s first National Championship in 31 years.

      In the 2017 March Madness Tournament, the goal was to try to duplicate the success of the previous year. Hart, Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds led the way as they took a 28-3 record heading into the Big East tournament where Villanova won their third title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The committee put Villanova as the overall number one seed for the first time in program history. Unfortunately, on March 18, the Wildcats fell to Wisconsin 65-62 in the Round of 32. It was quite the disappointment to fall short of the goal, but Villanova has a lot to be proud of. The senior class, consisting of Hart, Jenkins, Reynolds and Denny Grace, had the most wins for a single class in Villanova history with an overall record of 123-16. With new faces ready to take the leadership roles next season, things will be quite different come next fall when they take the court.

      Sources: CSN Philly, villanova.com

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