This isn’t how the season was supposed to go. Villanova wasn’t supposed to be plagued with injuries. The Wildcats weren’t supposed to be just barely clinging to a #1 seed in late February. This team wasn’t supposed to lose its 4th game of the season down the home stretch.
Because they weren’t supposed to be this good.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been some flaws exposed on both ends of the court that now have people questioning if they’re the favorites come tournament time. But this is a team that graduated all four of its leading scorers from the 2016 Championship season, and had a lot of questions coming into this year.
Could Mikal Bridges step up with the breakout season that many had expected the previous year? Would Phil Booth still be able to play at the level he did in the National Championship? Could this team still shoot at a high level? How good is Omari Spellman?
As we now know, Villanova exceeded expectations (possibly playing over their heads at times) and are worthy of a #1 seed in this year’s tournament. However, the issue that has befuddled most of the field for the entire season seems to be landing squarely on the Wildcats: Consistency.
When playing at their best, the Wildcats can beat any team in the country. The good news is we’ve seen their best enough times this season to know that they can play at that level more often than not. But now that teams have tape and the ability to start breaking down the Wildcat defense, that consistency has been harder to maintain.
Some of that has to do with the injuries. Getting players back up to speed, regaining their endurance, and playing within the system is difficult to do in just a game or two. Some of it also has to do with the fact that road wins are not easy in the Big East, the third best conference in the country. Some of it has to land on the players and the coaching staff.
Sure, losing sucks, especially when you’ve seen the team play better than they did at Creighton, at Providence, or against St. John’s. But here’s a true statement: There are 2 out of 351 D1 schools that have fewer losses than Villanova, and according to KenPom, both have played much weaker schedules.
Here’s another fact: Villanova’s defensive efficiency ranking has improved from 48th to 34th over the past two weeks. Their offensive efficiency is still #1 overall.
Yes, there are red flags and areas to improve. But don’t stop believing in these Cats just yet. They’re still really freaking good.
Villanova’s NCAA Tournament Sheet
The loss at Creighton doesn’t knock Villanova off the top line, but it sure didn’t help. Villanova will have to win its final two games to stay on top. Some additional notes:
- For anyone that was complaining about having to play Nicholls State this year, that win was more valuable than this week’s victory over DePaul.
- St. John’s lost their last two games, dropping both Nova’s win and loss down a Quad each. The win at Georgetown also dropped from Q2 to Q3.
- The Wildcats Non-Con SOS has jumped up ten spots over the past week. Way to go other teams!
- Four games within 10 spots of jumping up a Quad level: Q2 home win vs Creighton (32), Q2 home win vs Butler (35), Q2 neutral win vs Western Kentucky (53), Q3 neutral win vs Hofstra (105).
- Three games within 10 spots of falling down a Quad level: Q1 home win vs Seton Hall (22), Q1 away win at Marquette (66), Q2 home win vs Marquette (66).
Seeding the 16 Best Teams
Using the AP Poll Top 25, I’ve selected my picks for each seeding tier based on the Team Sheets that the NCAA Committee will be using. Here’s where the country’s elite teams stand this week:
NCAA Tournament Team Sheets for AP Top 25
|Saint Mary's (Cal.)||38||1-1||2-1||12-2||12-0||24.33||203|
#1 Seeds: Virginia, Xavier, Villanova, Kansas
While the members of this group hasn’t changed from last week, their strength on the top line sure has. Virginia is tightening it’s grip on the #1 overall seed, and at this point I think they could lose in the championship of the ACC Tournament and still be #1 overall.
Xavier and Kansas have both made stronger cases over the past week as well. The Musketeers are now in position to win its first Big East Championship. They’re also the only member of this group with zero losses outside of Q1. Kansas still has the most Q1 wins of any school, and their combined 18 wins in Quads 1&2 is four better than the next best school.
That next best would be Villanova, with 14 combined wins in Quads 1&2. The Wildcats have been slipping a bit in the past two weeks, but they’re still firmly on the one line for now. But they need to keep winning if they’re going to hold onto the #1 spot in the East Region. There’s no more wiggle room until unless someone else slips up.
#2 Seeds: Michigan State, Duke, North Carolina, Auburn
While none of these schools have done enough (yet) to jump the current #1 seeds, there are probably six schools that have an argument for the 2-line. Auburn has the best resume of this group on paper, but they’re going to be missing players that helped build that resume in the tournament and their predictive rankings are the lowest of this group. Those are both factors that will come down to the committee on Selection Sunday, and at this point there’s no way to predict which way they’ll lean.
Michigan State and Duke are both in need of runs in their conference tournaments to have a shot at the top line. Both schools have a Quad 1 record of just 3-3, but they should each have a shot at two to four Q1 wins in the final two weeks. They’ll still need some help, but they both have the talent and momentum to carry them up the ladder.
North Carolina is now the only school other than Kansas with double digit Quad 1 wins. Their losses have also aged well, with 5 of their 7 now sitting in Q1. I still think this is the highest they can climb seeding wise without some sort of massive collapse by multiple schools ahead of them, but UNC is looking at another high seed in the tournament.
#3 Seeds: Purdue, Cincinnati, Texas Tech, Tennessee
Purdue has a strong case to jump up a line, if not already be among the 2 seeds. They have twice the number of Q1 wins that Duke and Michigan State have. The problem is they have the head to head loss to Michigan State and almost double the losses. They also have fewer Quad 1&2 wins than Duke, and lower predictive and NCSOS rankings. It’s close enough that a win over MSU in the Big Ten Tournament this week could flip the schools, but that’s on Purdue.
Cincinnati likely isn’t going to have the same opportunities as the teams in better conferences, so they might be stuck here on the three line come selection Sunday. Texas Tech could jump back up to the second tier with a run through the Big 12 tournament, but they have a tough schedule to finish out the regular season to get through first.
Tennessee may have seven losses, but all of them are in Quad 1. They likely still have some work to do to hold onto a 3 seed, but with 11 Quad 1&2 wins they’re already in good position.
#4 Seeds: Wichita State, Rhode Island, Clemson, West Virginia
Man does it get rough outside the Top 10. All of these schools have some good accomplishments, but at this point it gets more about having fewer flaws. Rhode Island and Clemson each only have two Quad 1 victories, but they also have no losses outside of Quad 1. Clemson will have a shot at picking up a few more Q1 wins, but Rhode Island may have trouble holding onto a four seed at this point.
Wichita State may be just 3-2 in Quad 1, but they have 13 combined Quad 1&2 wins. Only Kansas and Villanova have more among the AP Poll’s Top 25. West Virginia is 6-6 in Quad 1, and their losses have aged well. They’re still Top 10 in the predictive rankings, and that tie breaker was just enough to bump them onto the back of the 4-line.
The next four up would be Gonzaga, Ohio State, Michigan, and Arizona. Whether it be lack of wins, too many losses, or lower tie breakers like predictive rankings and NCSOS, these four teams are still on the outside looking in when it comes to the geographically protected seeds.