Another year, another number one seed for Jay Wright and the Wildcats. It’s become old-hat almost to see Villanova’s name being revealed along the top line of the bracket. But, after winning a championship two seasons ago, the expectations are higher for this team as we enter what is seemingly a wide open tournament field.
However, we’re not here to make predictions, rather, we’re here to catch you up on how this year’s version of the ‘Cats earned a number one seeding.
Since the break-up of the old Big East in 2013, the Wildcats had won every regular season conference championship and because of that, were ranked 1st by the coaches and media in the preseason conference poll. A big part of the reason for that was the return of juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, two starters on the 2016-17 team that had gone 32-4 and advanced to the Round of 32 in the tournament.
In addition, the Wildcats returned Big East All-Freshman team forward Donte DiVincenzo, junior forward Eric Paschall, and senior guard Phil Booth. Add to that group a pair of talented freshmen forwards in Omari Spellman and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and guard Collin Gillespie and Jay Wright’s group looked loaded for a big season.
November 23, 2017
The first true test of the season comes in the form of a match-up with the Tennessee Volunteers as part of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament. Up to this point, Jay Wright’s team had easily rolled through games against Columbia, Nicholls State, Lafayette and Western Kentucky. The Vols jump all over the ‘Cats in the first half, taking a 46-34 advantage into the break. In the second half, Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson took over, leading Villanova to a 51 points second half en route to an 85-76 win. They followed this win up with a 64-50 win against Northern Iowa.
December 5, 2017
After the “Battle 4 Atlantis”, the Wildcats faced a pair of Big 5 foes in University of Pennsylvania and St. Joseph’s. They scored 90+ points in both games and held their opponents to 62 and 53 points respectively. Next up, came a date with the Gonzaga Bulldogs at Madison Square Garden. On this night, it was the Mikal Bridges show, as the junior forward put up 28 points on 8-of-14 shooting including 5-of-9 from three point range, leading the ‘Cats to an 88-72 win.
December 30, 2017
Following the win over Gonzaga, the Wildcats continued their run of victories, knocking off LaSalle, Temple, Hofstra and then opening conference play with a win over DePaul. Sitting at 13-0 and the #1 team in the country in the AP Top 25 poll, the Wildcats made the trip to Hinkle Fieldhouse to face the perennial thorn in their sides, the Butler Bulldogs. Once again, the Hinkle magic proved to be too much to overcome as Butler seemingly couldn’t miss a shot all game, hitting 15 threes (on 22 attempts) and shooting 60-percent overall from the field. The Bulldogs handed ‘Nova its first loss of the season 101-93.
January 10, 2018
Villanova didn’t have to wait long in order to get things back on track, beating Marquette on January 6th and then welcoming #10 Xavier to the Wells Fargo Center. The Musketeers had never beaten ‘Nova since joining the Big East conference, and this day would be no different, as they coasted to a 24 point win, 89-65. Phil Booth, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, and Donte DiVincenzo all scored in double figures. This win was part of a nine-game winning streak spanning January 6th to February 4th.
February 7th-February 14th
A rough patch hits for the Wildcats, as they drop two out of three games against St. John’s, Butler and Providence. The good news? Revenge for the earlier loss to Butler, with an 86-75 victory at Wells Fargo Center. The bad news? A loss to a winless in the Big East St. John’s team 75-71 and a 76-71 loss to Ed Cooley’s Providence squad on the road. The Wildcats were missing key starter Phil Booth during this stretch as he was still recovering from a broken hand that he sustained at the end of January.
February 17, 2018
Following that stretch, the Wildcats had some work to do in order to try and catch Xavier for the Big East regular season crown. Lucky for them, they had a road trip to Xavier to try and gain at least one game back. After the way they had played against St. John’s and Providence, many thought that this would finally be the time Xavier got them. Well, the ‘Cats had other things in mind, draining 16-of-34 three point attempts as they once again coasted to a win over the Musketeers, 95-79. Despite the win, ‘Nova was unable to catch Xavier in the standings and the Musketeers took the regular season Big East crown.
March 8-10th, 2018
The Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden saw the same sort of performances we came to expect at the beginning of the season from the Wildcats. In order, Jay Wright’s team knocked off Marquette (94-70), Butler (87-68) and Providence (76-66 OT) to win the Big East tournament title. Mikal Bridges was named the tournament MVP.
Up Next: The Wildcats earned a 1-seed in the eyes of the selection committee, being placed in the East region. Their first match-up comes against the winner of the 16-seed play-in game between LIU and Radford. That would be followed in the second round by the winner of the 8/9 match-up between Virginia Tech and Alabama.