Nova ends 20-year MSG drought; Yale’s NCAA drought goes on
No matter how much success Villanova has had in the regular season in the Big East under Jay Wright, there always would be a point during the conference tournament where things would go all wet.
After the Wildcats’ dominating performance on the championship stage Saturday night, the only thing that went all wet was Wright’s tailored navy pinstripe-pattern suit during postgame celebrations in the locker room.
Three players scored in double figures – including tournament MVP Josh Hart’s 15 off the bench – as top-seeded Villanova defeated the six seed, the Xavier Musketeers, 69-52 in the Big East Tournament championship game, winning its first postseason title since it won the 1995 conference tournament in New York.
With both Virginia and Duke, potential No. 1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament, both losing in the ACC Tournament semifinals on Friday, this game might have served as an audition to the NCAA Selection Committee for a top seed.
The Wildcats passed with flying colors, and did so with Big East co-Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono held to only three points in 29 minutes. Along with Hart, fellow guards Dylan Ennis and Darrun Hilliard scored in double figures, with 16 and 12 respectively. Even with Arcidiacono’s title as the league’s best player, the Wildcats are not widely considered a team that has a legitimate star, an assessment Wright believes is a crucial element to his team’s success this season.
“I think we have guys that are capable of being stars, but they know they don’t have to be, and they accept that,” Wright said. “They love being a part of the team, and i think that’s our strength. A number of these guys could be stars if we needed them to be.”
Wright’s previous Villanova teams had stars, with current NBA All-Star Randy Foye being part of some great teams. And even though Wright has a Final Four to his credit while with the Wildcats (2009) none of those squads ever won a conference tournament championship.
“I sit and think about…we had some teams like ’06 with Randy Foye and those guys, and I kind of feel bad that they didn’t experience this,” Wright added. “The ’09 team, I felt bad they didn’t get to experience it. I felt they were good enough to win it.”
Villanova now goes into Selection Sunday with a decent chance of earning a No. 1 seed, but also will have to buck a recent trend of bowing out early despite having good regular seasons. Since the 2009 Final Four run, Villanova is 2-4 in NCAA Tournament games, not making the Sweet 16 in any of those four appearances. In 2010 and 2014, the Wildcats lost in the Round of 32 as a No. 2 seed.
But those teams, like the previous 19 before this season, didn’t go into the NCAA Tournament after a conference tournament win, and pulling off the double of regular season and conference tournament could be enough to set the Wildcats up for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
Bounces go against Bulldogs
Javier Duren’s final shot as a Yale player in the regular season looked good when the ball left his left hand. But as Duren, along with the rest of the Bulldogs found out, something that may look so right could end with a cruel twist, especially when March Madness is afoot.
Duren’s missed shot off the glass and rim was followed by the second-half buzzer, ending Yale’s chances of clinching an NCAA Tournament berth for the first time in 53 years as Harvard prevailed in the one-game playoff for the Ivy League’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, 53-51. After the Crimson’s Steve Moundou-Missi hit a jumper with 7.2 seconds remaining, Duren attacked the glass as Yale decided to not call timeout.
The layup didn’t take the bounce off the backboard that he expected.
“I thought it was in,” Duren chuckled, almost still in disbelief that the ball didn’t drop through the hoop to force overtime. “The ball took a crazy bounce. In a situation like that, it’s hard to almost get a better look.”
Added Duren: “It took me a while to realize what happened, because when I let it go, it looked so good.”
Yale’s NCAA chances looked so good just seven days ago. After they beat Harvard on the road last Friday to take a one-game lead in the standings, the Bulldogs entered their scheduled regular-season finale at Dartmouth knowing they would clinch their first NCAA Tournament berth in 53 years with a win. Instead, Yale lost on a last-second layup, 59-58, to the Big Green, and coupled with Harvard’s win earlier that evening, the one-game playoff stage was set.
After Harvard scored the first eight points of the contest, Yale fought back to take a four-point lead into intermission. The Bulldogs had to fight back again after the Crimson opened the second half scoring 17 of the first 22 points, eventually opening up a nine-point lead at 46-37 after a Wesley Saunders jumper with 6:19 remaining.
The response was that of a champion – which Yale officially is this season in the eyes of the Ivy League office. A 12-2 run, spurred on by Duren’s aggressive drives and four free-throw makes, gave the Bulldogs a 49-48 lead with 1:47 left.
Once again, however, a bounce didn’t go the way of the Elis.
Harvard’s next possession saw Saunders fouled immediately before hitting a running jumper. Initially, the ruling was that the foul was not in the act of shooting, but after the three officials convened and then looked at the monitor on the scorer’s table, Saunders’ basket was counted. His ensuing free throw gave the Crimson a 51-49 lead and Yale would never lead again, though Duren hit two more free throws to tie the game at 51 with 55 seconds left.
Moundou-Missi missed a jumper on the next possession, but the fight for the rebound saw the ball knocked out of bounds on the nearside by Yale. The officials reviewed the close call and decided to stick with the initial call, setting up the wild finish.
[Cover photo (Jay Wright) courtesy of Elsa/Getty Images]