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The Sun’s Arizin: Villanova Basketball’s history in the Sweet 16

It’s certainly not the first time this team has been here, and it won’t be the last.

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Happy Tuesday Nova Nation! If you’re around the Villanova area today and have some free time, be sure to get down to campus and send the team off to San Antonio as they prepare for yet another appearance in the Sweet Sixteen!

Like I said, this isn’t the team’s first trip to the Sweet 16. Villanova has nine players on their roster with Sweet Sixteen experience. In fact, if you take out Jordan Longino who likely will be ineligible with injury, 7 of the 8 players in the current rotation can say they’ve played double digit minutes in the Sweet 16. The only one that can’t... Collin Gillespie, who only saw 5 minutes against West Virginia in 2018. I think he’ll be fine. But it’s not just the current players that have the experience, Villanova has had plenty of historical success getting to and winning in the Sweet 16.

Since 1951 when the field was expanded to sixteen teams, Villanova has participated in the the Regional Semi-Final in 20 of their 39 appearances (51%). Under Jay Wright the team has had similar success, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 8 of their 16 tournament appearances (50%). In fact, it’s become a more common occurrence since their Championship runs, as Villanova has made the tournament every year (that there was a tournament), and advanced to the second weekend in four of the last six tournaments.

Getting to this round is certainly a great accomplishment. The “madness” of the tournament itself means that regardless of whether your seed dictated you should make it or not, you have to be happy to be there. So today I figured we’d look at the 20 times Villanova has been four games away from the National Championship, and how they fared by seed.

Unseeded Teams

From the time the field expanded to 16 teams in 1951 until 1977, there were no seeds in the tournament. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1979 that all teams were seeded. That means Villanova had eight participants that we don’t really know if they were favored to move on or not. Here are the results from those teams:

  • Lost in Sweet 16: ‘51, ‘55, ‘64, ‘72
  • Lost in Elite 8: ‘62, ‘70, ‘78
  • Lost in National Championship: ‘71

Not too shabby! Nova again continued their run 50% of the time, including the team’s first appearance in the National Title game. It wouldn’t be their last.

9 through 16 Seeds

It hasn’t been often that Villanova advanced to the second weekend when they weren’t even favored to make it out of the first round, but there was one plucky team out there that did just that. In the eight times that Villanova has entered the tournament as a 9 seed or lower, only the 12th seeded 2008 team advanced to the second weekend.

You may remember it as the “Turmoil in Tampa”, where all four of the double digit seeded teams playing in that region pulled the upsets over their respective 4 and 5 seeded opponents. For Villanova, it meant a come from behind victory over Clemsen and then a stomping of Sienna to advance. They’d eventually get routed by 1 seed Kansas, but it was a great run for a Wildcat team that wasn’t supposed to make much noise.

5 through 8 Seeds

These teams were supposed to pick up a win in the tournament, but still not expected to make it to the second weekend. Well don’t tell that to the 1985 team! Villanova has made eight appearances in the tournament as a 5-8 seed, and advanced to the Sweet 16 3 times (37%).

  • Lost in Sweet 16: ‘21
  • Lost in Elite 8: ‘88
  • Won the National Champions: ‘85

We all know about the Cinderella run of the 1985 Championship team, the lowest seed to ever win it all.

The most recent over-performing came just last year. The Wildcats were likely underseeded after losing Collin Gillespie for the season with a knee injury, but they made short work of two double digit seeds to make their way back to the Sweet 16. Their March run would end there as they fell to eventual Champion 1 Seeded Baylor.

There was also the ‘88 team, which made it all the way to the Elite 8. This team led by Doug West and Mark Plansky would run through 11 Seed Arkansas, 3 Seed Illinois, and 2 Seed Kentucky before eventually falling to 1 Seed Oklahoma. The Sooners would go on to the National Championship game where they lost to Kansas that season.

1 through 4 Seeds

These teams are expected to make the Sweet 16, if not push on with a shot at the title. Since seeding began, Villanova has claimed one of the top tier seeds fourteen times, advancing to the second weekend now for the seventh time, just 50%. Like we said, no matter your seed winning in March is hard.

  • Playing in Sweet 16: ‘22
  • Lost in Elite 8: ‘82, ‘83, ‘06
  • Lost in Final Four: ‘09
  • Won the National Championship: ‘16, ‘18

If history repeats itself, that’s good news for Villanova. Not every highly ranked Wildcat team has made it to the Sweet Sixteen, but those that do have all advanced to the Elite 8. This year’s team will look to do just that when they take on Michigan on Thursday.

In other news...

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Former Wildcats

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Big East

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The first and second round games are played for a reason. College basketball fans witnessed firsthand some of the shocking upsets that came down from No. 15 St. Peter’s going to the Sweet 16 to both second-seeded Auburn and top-seeded Baylor losing in the second round.

Villanova Women’s Basketball

Michigan beats Villanova, 64-49, in NCAA women's tournament | Detroit Free Press
Naz Hillmon had 27 points and 11 rebounds as Michigan women's basketball beat Villanova, 64-49, Monday at Crisler Center to advance to the Sweet 15.

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The Wildcats and their swarming defense gave the team a fighting chance, but this time, their key shots didn't fall.