As the clock winded down at Barclay’s Center, an overdue celebration was set to occur. The Wildcats imposed their will against the Iowa Hawkeyes in a 87-68 victory where the Hawkeyes never stood a chance. ‘Nova hit on all cylinders, as the defense was able to generate live ball turnovers and their offensive connected consistently from three in their half-court offense. When the final buzzer sounded, an over exuberant Villanova team celebrated at center court.
When looking at the game on the basis of it being one game early in the tournament, the celebration might have been deemed excessive. There was no thrilling comeback or fantastic buzzer beater that carried ‘Nova to victory. Iowa was far from a traditional rival that has had a series of highly competitive contest for decades. This game was also far from an upset as Villanova was expected to win. To understand why the celebration was intense you must comprehend the recent history of Villanova during the NCAA tournament and the one major critique of the 2016 seniors of Villanova Basketball.
When it comes to the regular season Villanova asserted themselves as the most prolific and successful program in the reinvented Big East. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 Villanova has claimed the regular season conference title. National rankings are nothing new to the Wildcats, as they climbed all the way to the number 1 ranking in the AP poll, which is something Ed Pickney or Kerry Kittles did not accomplish in their careers at Villanova.
The biggest blemish on the legacy of the 2016 seniors at Villanova has been their inability to advance to the Sweet 16. As freshmen in 2013 the Wildcats were able to secure an at-large bid but were one and done as they fell victim to the North Carolina Tar Heels. This loss was disappointing but ultimately anticipated. Villanova had to scrape and crawl to 20 wins and there were no grand expectations of a deep NCAA tournament run placed on the shoulders on the 2013 edition of ‘Nova basketball.
With 2014 came tremendous regular season success and with great regular season success comes the demand of validation. Villanova has risen to the top of the Big East and to prove how great they were, they needed a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, at the HSBC center the Wildcats were paired with UConn in the field of 32. Led by Shabazz Napier, the Huskies engineered one of several upsets as UConn ran all the way to the NCAA title.
That one defeat in the NCAA tournament altered the entire 2014 to a letdown. Regular season wins are important but failing to capitalize on a high seed will quickly diminish your regular season accomplishments. Now going into 2015, Villanova did have postseason success…in the Big East tournament. The Wildcats were able to cut down the nets at the World’s Most Famous Arena and had secured bragging rights over their conference foes.
Yet once again on the grandest stage, Jay Wright and company could not advance past the first weekend as NC State was able to dispatch ‘Nova in the field of 32. The whispers of them not being a good team have changed to more audible calls stating how the Wildcats were never going to conquer the rigors of ousting out-of-conference foes in the NCAA tournament.
With each impressive win, whether it be over Xavier or Seton Hall, those evaluating on the national stage would not recognize ‘Nova as a legitimate threat because of previous performances. Certain people were anticipating another early exit this year which meant that Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu would never make the Sweet 16.
Yet with one simple victory over Iowa, all of the anguish and sorrow from seasons past have been eliminated. The Wildcats have finally reached a destination that has been so close in years past and with that victory, people have finally come to respect the Villanova program that has been lacking on the national stage.
Since Villanova is still playing, the legacy of both Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu can still grow. A legacy that two weeks ago was depicted with an inability to win big games could be morphed into a legacy that delivers a national title for Villanova. It is amazing how opinions on players can change if the players can put together a six game win streak in March.
Photo: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament