John Iatesta (@JohnIatesta)
Last year Villanova was on the outside looking in during the selection show. This year senior forward Mouphtaou Yarou was relishing the chance to play in the tournament in his final year.
The Wildcats were the first City 6 team announced on Sunday, as the No. 9 seed in the South bracket. They’ll face 8-seed North Carolina on Friday in Kansas City.
Yarou had a huge smile on his face when he was asked what it meant to him to be able to go to the tournament in his senior season.
“I feel great, a little bit selfish but I feel great because Scottie [Reynolds] took his team to the NCAA tournament, Corey Fisher did, and this time I did,” Yarou said.
Villanova Coach Jay Wright quickly corrected Yarou.
“That’s not selfish at all, a lot of responsibility was put on you, that’s pride,” Wright said.
Yarou wasn’t the only one who felt a sense of pride because of his team’s tournament berth. Wright was beaming when talking about his team.
“We’re obviously thrilled, we’re thrilled to be in the tournament,” Wright said.
Prior to last season Villanova had been on a run of seven consecutive years in the NCAA tournament, including a trip to the Final Four in 2009.
“When we went on that run for seven years I would say appreciate where we are this doesn’t happen every year. Last year made everybody realize what I was talking about. This is so hard to do, you really have to cherish this,” Wright said.
The last time these two teams met was in that 2009 Final Four, with North Carolina coming out victorious.
Wright is excited to be matching up against such a strong program.
“To play one of the greatest programs in college basketball and the NCAA tournament, it just doesn’t get any better,” Wright said.
Wright has confidence that his team has enough talent and a strong enough work ethic to beat not only North Carolina, but anyone they may face.
If they do make it past North Carolina they will likely have to face No. 1 seed Kansas in the next round. Wright did not speak about this possible matchup, wanting to focus on the game ahead of his team.
He did speak about the difficulties that North Carolina usually presents.
“Their ability to consistently to push the ball at you for 40 minutes is difficult to simulate in practice for us,” Wright said. “When we played them in the Final Four I think that got to us a little bit.”
Villanova had a season full of ups and downs–a double digit home loss to Columbia and three wins over top-five teams–but they are now in the tournament and looking to make the most of it.
The three top five-wins were against Syracuse, Louisville, and Georgetown, all Big East rivals. They had another top 20 victory over another Big East team, Marquette.
With wins like that it would seem obvious that they would be a lock for the tournament but they only had 19 wins against D-I programs and went 9-7 in conference play, which included two losses to Providence.
When looking at the other teams in the field it is surprising that Villanova managed to get a 9-seed; it was expected they would be more of a 10-or-11 seed. For example, Oregon is a 12 seed after going 23-8 in the regular season and winning the Pac-12 championship.
“We’re honored and humbled they’d give us a nine seed, we’re proud of that,” Wright said. “When you’re in the position we’re in you have to wait back and see how they’re going to evaluate you. You don’t know.”
Wright credited some of the inconsistency during the season to the team’s inexperience.
Yarou and James Bell, a 6-6 guard who averaged nearly nine points, are two upperclassman that the Wildcats will be leaning on during the tournament.
“We know that if we come out and stick to what we do. Our core values, our core principles that anything can happen. We played in some big games this year and by doing what we do we came out on top,” Bell said.
Another key member of the Wildcats is freshman guard, Ryan Arcidiacono. Arcidiacono was named to the Big East All-Rookie team this year and averaged 12 points per game for Villanova.
“I’m just going to try and do my part on this team and whatever coach asks,” Arcidiacono said. “I was just really happy. It didn’t really matter to me who we played. I know that we’re going to come out and play our hardest and play for each other.”
Villanova hopes that their big-game success follows them into the NCAA tournament for they will need it if they hope to get by both North Carolina and possible Kansas.