March Madness officially starts today.
Yes I know the Selection Show is not until Sunday afternoon. But the Big East tournament started this morning in New York, the last time teams can impress the selection committee enough to warrant a bid. Back before Al Gore invented the Internet, and I was still an undergrad, the Big East tournament was always a high-risk, high-reward event for us Wildcats. Villanova typically rolled in at around .500, needing at least one win (and probably two) to make it to the Big Dance. Usually they managed to pull it off.
It’s been a long time since Villanova found itself on the bubble. Jay Wright has turned the program into a juggernaut, and with four Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and one Final Four appearance since 2005, they became a perennial lock to make the tournament. This year was supposed to play out like the last six, and it started off that way. Entering their 26 Jan game at Providence, they were 17-2 and ranked #8 nationally. They lost that night, then seven of their next 11 games , dropping to 10th in the conference. That’s a far cry from the second place finish most preseason polls picked them for.
For the first time in my recent memory they fell out of the Top 25.
Many experts are projecting 11 Big East teams making the NCAA field of 68. That would be a record total, obviously, and account for almost 1/4 of the total field. I am a biased Big East fan, and I know this year’s conference is very strong (just look at the RPI for the top 11 teams), but I’m having a hard time believing 11 teams will get in. Right now the 10th and 11th teams would be Villanova and Marquette, and that puts Wright’s crew squarely on the bubble.
It’s pretty simple for the Wildcats. Win tonight and you possibly get in. Win tonight and tomorrow and you probably get in. Lose tonight, and don’t be surprised when the NIT (or whatever they call it now) comes calling.
Villanova badly needs a win. Go get it.