The team rose to their feet and applauded as they saw "Villanova" come across the TV screen for the one seed in the East Region. The alumni and students alike all cheered as their school finally got some national recognition for their hard work on the season. Minutes after the announcement, though, it was time to get to work.
"It's so refreshing," said Darrun Hilliard as his team finally knew their fate. "We're just fortunate to be a one seed and we're just ready to go now."
No matter the confidence entering the Selection Show, it is always nerve-wracking to sit in anticipation.
With the one seed comes the benefit of playing your early rounds close to home. While Pittsburgh is more than a three hour drive, playing the 2nd and 3rd Rounds in Pennsylvania will certainly attract a large Villanova following. "Hopefully Nova Nation can come out and support us like they did in the Garden," said Hilliard.
Consequently, a team that was considered to fly under the radar all season will now be in the spotlight. Darrun did not seem too shaken by that, however, claiming the team's mindset is unaffected. "It kinda stays the same. If it doesn't stay the same, it's probably just added pressure, but we don't really look into that. You know how we went about things all year, we didn't look into pressure as our downfall. We just kinda took it all in stride and got back to work."
The 32-2 squad that ended all of its conference play on a 15-game winning streak never really had a downfall, but this team handled pressure wonderfully, winning the few one-possession games they were faced with.
Darrun knows Lafayette well, being raised in the area. 'Bethlehem Steel' not only played them in the season opener last year, but he "also went up there in high school and played with the guys. They're a good team, I know they have a good point guard. It's going to be a tough match."
The point guard he referred to is Nick Lindner, a sophomore who averages 12.1 PPG on 49.4% shooting and 5.4 APG. Last year against the `Cats he shots 2-7 to finish with 8 points and 7 assists.
Coach Wright took a less optimistic approach to the bracket, showing his usual respect for any team the Wildcats could face. "The closest game we played at home this year was Bucknell. The next closest game we had was Lehigh, and [Lafayette] beat them. It's a style of play we can hopefully learn from playing those two teams."
Both Lehigh and Lafayette are in the Patriot League, and they squads split the series this season.
Wright reflected on his team's performance in the Big East Tournament run. "We were a confident team, but the Big East Tournament had a lot of different tales to it. The Marquette game, we played great. Providence we didn't, and found a way to win. Xavier we played on the big stage and played well, so I think our guys feel good about playing in all different situations, especially getting into a tough game with pressure on the line."
If `Nova gets passed the Leopards, they will be matched up against either (8) NC State Wolfpack or (9) LSU Tigers. From the ACC and SEC, both potential opponents are from power conferences, but Jay is not looking at the 8-9 matchup any differently. "We've been in this situation before. I remember back when we played Arizona in an 8-9. They were an 8 at the Wells Fargo Center. I remember thinking 'If this wasn't at the Wells Fargo Center, we wouldn't have beaten this team.' You can get some really good teams out of that bracket, and these two are playing their best basketball right now; both got hot at the end of the season. So, that's the NCAA Tournament- you're gonna get a good team."
All Sunday night and into the play-in games this evening, major networks have broken down each region and made their picks for each game. More than a few have picked Villanova to lose before the Sweet 16, citing their lack of star power or easy conference schedule. This all ties back in to the little attention the Wildcats have received all year. "There's so much attention on college basketball these days, I don't know know if it's possible to fly under the radar," Wright joked. Nevertheless he was unfazed by that neglect: "We don't care. We're gonna go play, and we're thrilled to be the second one seed."
I've never heard Jay say he didn't care about something.
Wright went on to talk about what the one seed means to the team and what their pod looks like. "The one seed is more prestigious than advantageous. It's matchups- I haven't seen much of NC State and LSU to know about that matchup, but I've seen a lot of Lafayette and I know that's a tough matchup. We've played different styles this year so I think we're prepared for it."
Last season's Wildcat team was also given a high seed, but the journey ended abruptly in the Third Round at the hands of the Connecticut Huskies. Coach Wright believes this year's team is in a better position in many ways. "There's advantages that come with [a one seed]. You get toplay close to home, you play a 16-seed, but there's a lot of pressure too. Last year we might not have been able to handle the pressure. I think this year's team has handled pressure. Everywhere we've gone on the road the place has been sold out. It's been everyone's biggest game of the year and they played well. So I think they're more comfortable in that condition this year."
Above all, Jay credits his seniors for Villanova's unprecedented success this season. "That, I think, is our greatest characteristic. I heard Arch say this- they have no fear, they know what it is, they've been in all these situations. It's their confidence." One of those seniors, JayVaughn Pinkston, embodies another Wildcat benefit- having two big men. "We have Darryl Reynolds, too, who we haven't had to use," after talking about Daniel Ochefu and JVP, "so we do have good depth."
Wright summed up his team beautifully: "I would say our experience, our depth and our balance are probably our three best characteristics."
Echoing his comments on pressure, he concluded by discussing Villanova's goal throughout the tournament. "That's what the tournament is all about: the higher seeds handling pressure, the lower seeds not being intimidated. And that's the mind game and the battle of a tournament. It's fun. It's a great challenge."
Villanova faces Lafayette on Thursday at 6:50pm. It airs on TBS.