With expectations held high--focusing on small habits, dialing in, and executing will be the key to success this coming Thursday--as the Big East Tournament champions head into the tournament, portraying nothing but a business-like demeanor.
The Wildcats have landed in Pittsburgh, and they sit atop the East Region with a No. 1 seed. Since winning it all a couple of years ago, the expectations have been high. Just like last year, they will play the winner of a First Four game to start.
“It’s tough going into the tournament preparing to play two teams, but one thing we need to focus on is keeping it simple and just doing what we do,” said Jalen Brunson.
While part of March Madness is seeing teams react to their seeding year in and year out, it was another case of deja vu for the ‘Cats. They weren’t overly enthusiastic about their one seed. There was no jumping up and down, nor were their overwhelming expressions of shock or excitement. The ‘Cats have been there before. Sure, a one-seed is exciting, but Villanova appeared calm and ready to tackle the madness of March head on.
Villanova has been a one-seed in three of the last four years, it’s expected to see such a number. However, as it has brutally experienced before, anyone can be beat and matchups aren’t won on paper. It’s what made the national title run so sweet, but also maybe has hardened them to not take anyone lightly.
To keep it most simple, and as Brunson mentioned, they can’t worry too much about the identity of their opponent...they must gear their energy toward staying focused on playing their game of Villanova Basketball.
“We are going to be ready, and we are going to be prepared to play on Thursday,” Villanova forward Mikal Bridges said. “Right now, business means keeping it professional, doing what we do, and studying film.”
With staying professional, comes staying focused on the opponent at hand and ignoring certain media attention placed on individual players which is heightened especially this week. It also includes tuning out the analysts that predict a Final Four or another national title, as well as the pundits who are salivating at another early exit.
“It’s important that we aren’t consumed in the media as we look to focus on ourselves,” Brunson said. “In fact, it’s one of the most crucial elements that will allow us to be successful. It’s our job as captains to lead the younger guys in that we make sure everyone’s on the same page, only worrying about ‘us’ on the court.”
The Wildcats are seeded No. 2 overall this year, after being No. 1 overall last year. Last season, their shot at a title defense abruptly ended by an upset from Wisconsin. However, they are looking to go further this year.
“This time of year, anybody can beat anybody—it’s a challenge for everybody,” Brunson said. “We just need to put all our focus into playing as hard and together as we can.”
Their first game match-up will be against the Radford Highlanders on Thursday, at 6:50 p.m. ET. This game will be followed in the second round by the winner of the 8/9 match-up between Virginia Tech and Alabama.
Experience is valuable for the ‘Cats. ‘Nova has the players that have been through the tournament while on the national championship team. As a veteran-laden team, it will look to be one of their X-Factors to guide them to success this month. Those battle-tested players will not only bring an edge to the court, but also provide a model for the younger players to follow.
There are a few players that will be partaking in their first NCAA Tournament game. With a bigger and brighter stage, Jay Wright has been there over a dozen times and has a few words of reassurance.
“It’s important we help young guys know what it’s all about but we tell them it’s just another game,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “There’s nothing different.”