Villanova is one of three teams to post three top-five wins. (Lucas Migliarino/The Villanovan)

by Mark Mullany

You did not misread the headline. One of the Sports Co-Editors is picking the Wildcats to win the NCAA tournament before Selection Sunday has confirmed their invitation.

When the ’Cats knocked off the No. 5 Georgetown Hoyas,  I was ecstatic. Once again, the Wildcats showed the haters they can win when it matters most. While one might have thought a low-scoring game would benefit Georgetown, one of the best defensive teams in the country, ’Nova actually outplayed the Hoyas defensively.

With this win, ’Nova is very likely to be selected to go to the Big Dance, known as the NCAA Tournament.

After the Georgetown game, many of my Villanova friends’ Facebook statuses talked about the ’Cats going dancing, as if the basketball team were throwing a formal in the Pavilion.

The next day, I reclined in the easy chair at home over spring break, debating whether I could be daring and put into writing that ’Nova would be at the center of my bracket. Even though the NCAA committee has not announced the 68 teams competing for college’s biggest crown, I was about 80 percent confident I could write this column.

But I needed a push.

Toward the end of spring break, I was out to brunch with my grandfather at Minella’s Diner. He was just as excited as I was about the victory. I told him ’Nova should make the NCAA tournament with its latest win. Then, my grandfather gave me that push, without even realizing it.

“Let me tell you something,” my grandfather said. “Not only are [the Wildcats] going to be in the Tournament—Villanova is going to win the Tournament.”

I looked into his eyes, and I saw no doubt in them. What I did see was his brown eyes twinkling with confidence.

And I believed him.

To set the record straight, I would not be writing this column if I did not attend Villanova University. I also would not be a happy human being if I did not attend Villanova University. While I’m thinking with my heart here, it is my heart that allows me to pick this year’s March Madness dark horse. So, I will use my brain to prove the truth that my heart already knows.

’Nova had to face three ranked teams in its last four games to finish the season. While botching against Seton Hall and losing to then-No. 23 Pitt, the Wildcats swiftly defeated No. 17 Marquette on senior night and held Georgetown, one of the best teams in the country, under 60 points.

This season, ’Nova is undefeated against top-five teams. The last time ’Nova beat three top-five teams was in the 1984-85 season—the year the Wildcats won the National Championship over Patrick Ewing’s Hoyas, thus pulling off one of the greatest upsets in college basketball history.

Overall, the ’Cats are 4-2 against ranked teams this season. Also, ’Nova has beaten all three Big East Regular Season Champions— Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown.

The Wildcats are a tough, resilient team. Whenever there is a loose ball on the court, one can be sure a ’Nova player will dive for it. Even if the score does not favor the ’Cats in the first half, or even in the last five minutes, like the game against Syracuse, they can still piece together a stunning comeback.

The Wildcats are a defensive-first team who live and die by the three-pointer. This season, they are 14-1 when they connect on at least six shots from behind the arc. That’s not just living, that’s thriving.

While no one on the team averages more than 15 points per game, ’Nova has top scorers such as red-shirt sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston, freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono and sophomore guard Darrun Hilliard. On a given night, any one of these players can get the hot hand and take over a game offensively.

In general, there is no clear favorite going into this year’s March Madness. The AP No. 1 ranking has changed hands six times this season, bouncing around to five different teams: Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Michigan and Gonzaga.

Kansas, Georgetown, Miami (FL), Louisville, Kansas State and Michigan State are also contenders for the NCAA crown.

“It’s all about the matchups,” my grandfather told me at brunch.

And he’s right.

This year’s Big Dance will ultimately come down to the seeding and the matchups. For Villanova, this is especially true.

“If a team gets matched up with a number one seed, it’s over,” my grandfather said, “but if a team gets matched up with an unknown team, then there’s a shot.”

For example, if the Wildcats end up facing Indiana in the first round, they’re leaving the dance floor early. Indiana averages 81 points per game. ’Nova has only cracked the 80-point barrier five times this year and averages 68 per game.

However, if the Wildcats face a team who heavily relies on their defense, like Georgetown, then they have a better chance of dancing all night long (or all March long because the Tournament is referred to as March Madness).

Once March Madness starts, regular season records and AP ranking do not matter. In 2010, Northern Iowa beat the overall No. 1 Kansas in the second round of the Tournament, virtually busting 99 percent of everyone’s brackets.

Many do not remember that Villanova was an eighth seed in the 1985 Tournament, the Nova Nation can easily recall the winner of that year’s March Madness.

The key to winning this Tournament is getting hot at the right time.

Consider this—in the last several years George Mason University and VCU have advanced to the Final Four, despite having double digit seeds.

Villanova can do the same, and maybe even better.

March is always a crazy month for college basketball—it’s madness. One can always count on upsets and buzzer beaters. Every year, one team has to win the Championship. We all fill our brackets, trying to guess who will be the next college to hang a championship banner. This year, I’ll be putting Villanova in the center of my bracket.

I hope you’ll do the same.


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