So I suppose I deserve to have to write this post:
— Rob Riches (@Riches61) March 18, 2017
— Mike Agrusa (@Copy1Cat) March 18, 2017
Someone check @CrossingBroad to make sure he hasn't off'd himself.
— ErichFiveSevenOh (@EazyDotSheezy) March 18, 2017
@CrossingBroad Ben Franklin Bridge just called. It's waiting.
— Steve (@seasidesteve215) March 18, 2017
I’m forlorn– no way to sugarcoat it. My fandom hurts. That thing that goes off so often as a Philly sports fan – that soul-crushing, unexpected loss thing – went off again yesterday. It’s gone off three of the last four years. Why? Reasons (forgive any typos, my spell check is too sad to care):
1) Wisconsin is really good
Plain and simple. They’re a powerhouse program. I wrote it on Monday— they’ve now been in four consecutive Sweet 16s, 6 out of the last 7, and 10 in 18 years. Worse, they are exactly the sort of team Villanova struggles against– big, slow, can score inside and out. Jay Wright is always complimentary of opponents, but he said it best on Friday– Wisconsin is a bigger, stronger Butler, a team that beat Villanova twice this season. There would’ve been no shame in losing to Wisconsin if this game was played at any other point during the year. Which brings us to…
2) Wisconsin wasn’t an 8 seed
They finished second in the Big 10 (which was admittedly down this year) and made it to the conference championship game. They were ranked as high as number five in the country in the USA Today Coaches Poll, just over a month ago on February 6 (!!!). At the time, their shooters became hampered by a string of leg injuries and the Badgers then lost five of their next six, which sent their ranking, and tournament seeding prospects, plummeting. Still, they bounced back, winning three of their next four, two of them against tournament teams (Minnesota and Northwestern), and made it to their conference championship game, which they lost to Michigan, also a tournament team. The Northwestern game is particularly noteworthy. Wisconsin blew them out by 28 points, 24 hours before the selection committee announced the bracket. And not only did both teams wind up with the same seed, but somehow Wisconsin got placed in the region with the top overall seed. Go fucking figure. It was just as unfair to Wisconsin as it was to Villanova, who ostensibly earned the right, by going 31-3, to not have to face a team as good as Wisconsin until at least the Sweet 16. Both of these teams are (were 😥) too good to have to play each other in a win-or-go-home game on the third day of the tournament. But don’t let me tell you why this was unjust. Let ESPN’s Eamonn Brennan do it:
Before Gonzaga’s goaltending stunted Northwestern’s 8-over-1 upset bid Saturday evening, another Big Ten-borne No. 8 had already knocked off a No. 1 Saturday afternoon.
Except in Buffalo, unlike in Salt Lake City, Wisconsin’s 65-62 win featured the downfall of the No. 1 overall seed, the defending national champion Villanova Wildcats. In Buffalo, unlike in Salt Lake, the No. 8 seed in question was not a team making its lovable first NCAA tournament foray but a roster whose seniors have been to two Final Fours and three Sweet 16s and played in 15 NCAA tournament games in the past four seasons — the most tourney-tested group of players in the sport. In Buffalo, unlike in Salt Lake, the No. 1 seed’s path to the second weekend went through one of the most underseeded teams in the 2017 NCAA tournament field.
Yes, Wisconsin was underseeded. Throw out the Badgers’ past accomplishments (the selection committee certainly does), and there remains no actual basketball explanation for why Greg Gard’s team was seeded where it was. The Badgers entered Selection Sunday 25-9 with a 12-6 record in the Big Ten — same as Maryland, a No. 6 seed, and one win better than Minnesota, a No. 5 seed that Wisconsin beat twice.
Brennan further explained why the NCAA simply got it wrong– read it here.
Gonzaga gets feel-good Northwestern (I’ve had enough of the family Collins), while Villanova gets powerhouse Wisconsin. Never mind that Butler gets Middle Tennessee State and Xavier gets Florida State, neither of which are as good as or better than Wisconsin. It’s horseshit.
3) Lack of top 10 teams in the Big East
I wrote last week that the Big East seems to be doing just fine. Indeed it is. They got seven – SEVEN – of their 10 teams into the dance, two of which (Xavier and Butler) have advanced to the Sweet 16. But when you look at Nova’s three early-round losses over the past four years, which have come at the hands of UCONN, NC State and now Wisconsin, you wonder if the Big East’s lack of top 10 teams ultimately hurts come tournament time. The conference has a lot of very good teams, but maybe only one or two great ones (Villanova and Butler). And when I looked last Sunday at the overall tournament seedings, as questionable as they may be, I worried that Villanova hadn’t played one team in the top 12 this season. They played and lost twice to number 13 overall seed Butler, and beat numbers 16, 17, 19 and 24, Purdue, Virginia, Notre Dame and Creighton (three times), respectively, a total of six times.
Typically, 8-9 seeds are talented teams from power conferences that either struggled for one reason or another, or have a bunch of underclassmen. They frequently have more talent than better-seeded mid-majors and sometimes better-seeded power conference teams. In Nova’s case, their second round opponents have perhaps represented the most talented teams they’ve played over the final month of the past four seasons.
This is no fault of Jay’s scheduling – Villanova played Purdue, Notre Dame and Virginia out of conference, and the Big Five usually helps in rounding out the OOC schedule with decent mid-majors – but I’d love for him to figure out a way to get one more premium team on the schedule. An additional two losses and a three seed might be better than a stellar record and a one seed. Keep in mind, Jay’s two Final Four appearances have come as a three seed and two seed. The three times Villanova has had a one seed, they lost in the Elite 8 and twice in the second round.
4) Frontcourt depth
It’s always a problem for Villanova, but it was exacerbated this season by not having McDonald’s All-American freshman Omari Spellman, who, along with senior Darryl Reynolds, should’ve been able to capably step in and fill Daniel Ochefu’s shoes. But a goofy NCAA ruling regarding his eligibility forced him to sit out. Spellman, who dropped back to eighth grade after starting ninth grade, spent parts of five years in high school and took longer than the NCAA allowed four years to complete 16 core courses. That’s the reason the defending National Champions weren’t able to deploy their five-star recruit this season. Make no mistake, the NCAA fucked Villanova both on the frontside and backside of the season. Some real Eiffel Tower shit from Mark Emmert and his corrupt friends.
5) Guard depth
As I pointed out the other day, losing senior Phil Booth, who scored 20 points in the National Championship game last year, to a knee injury hurt the Wildcats’ guard depth. So Nova spent the entire season without two players on which it was counting to be a major part of its rotation. They still went 32-4, with three of their four losses coming to Sweet 16 teams.
6) Villanova writing
I’ve gotten a lot of shit over the past 24 hours or so. I deserve it. But I’m baffled by the people who say I can’t stand the way you write about Nova and then tell me they yearn for the days of our Morning Wood and Cliff Lee coverage. The fact is, the way I write about Nova is exactly the sort of tongue-in-cheek way I wrote about the Phils in 2011, or the Flyers for those 18 months or so when they owned the Penguins. I get it if you don’t like Nova and therefore don’t enjoy it as much, but it’s the same superfan voice I use for the other local teams. The problem is, Villanova has been the only team around here for at least four years that has had a legitimate shot to win the championship each year, or any year, for that matter. I’d love to write more often the way I wrote about a magical steed pissing excellence into the Citizens Bank Park night… the problem is, other than a few months of Joel Embiid, we haven’t had a player, let alone a team, deserving of such over-the-top, lighthearted praise. If you hate the Nova coverage, fine. But please, before you complain about it, consider the local sports landscape for a moment.
Ultimately, I don’t feel any embarrassment as a Nova fan today. I’d sign up for three early-round exits and one National Championship 10 times out of 10. I think all Philly fans can appreciate that particular proposition– close but no cigar, or one big fat cigar and a handful of disappointments. It’s a sport talk radio trope, and I’ve always said I’d take the outcome that includes the prize.
Ultimately, Jay has a rather impressive NCAA Tournament record, often doing more with less. This is a team that, currently, doesn’t have a first round NBA talent on its roster (though let’s give Donte DiVincenzo a few years…). It hasn’t had one since 2006, when it had two– Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry. And yet, Jay has turned Villanova into a top-flight national program, not unlike Gonzaga, that sometimes runs into problems when it has to play a talented team from a power conference for the first time in months come March. But they keep coming every year. I’m still proud to say I went to Villanova. Even today. And I totally didn’t cry myself to sleep last night. Nope, not at all.