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March 21, 2016

Villanova rewind: Exorcising demons, Jay Wright’s ‘son,’ and a look at Miami

The Villanova Wildcats finally made it past the first weekend, and they did it in emphatic fashion.

In submitting a flawless first-half performance during an 87-68 win over Iowa (which wasn’t even that close), ‘Nova played like a team tired of hearing all of those second-round jokes. They threw perhaps the most impressive haymaker we have seen from any team in the tournament so far.

The Wildcats are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009, and we all know what happened that in that year’s regional. Let’s hop right back into Sunday’s game:

•    With all of the baggage that Villanova’s upperclassmen brought into this specific round of the tourney, you had to wonder if they would play a tight game that went down to the wire. Truth be told, that is sort of what happened last year against NC State.

Nope, not even close.

“The will of a really determined athlete is much greater than any of the pressure that the media, coaches, or anyone puts on them,” Jay Wright told reporters in Brooklyn. “They were so determined to win this and give their best effort in this game.”

The Wildcats submitted very similar performance to their second-round destruction of UCLA back in 2009. Like that game in Philly, Wright’s team had the pro-Nova crowd on their feet saluting a great performance 10 minutes into the game.

Still, this was a big deal for the Wildcat seniors.

“It’s definitely sigh of relief,” Ryan Arcidiacono told reporters. “The biggest thing is I’m just done answering questions about getting [to] the second weekend. I know it was always in the back of our seniors’ minds and our team.”

•    As a team that mixes in zone defense, Iowa gives up a healthy amount of three-pointers. What hurt the Hawkeyes in the first half was the quality of looks that ‘Nova got more than the quantity.

Whether or not Iowa was too concerned about dribble penetration, the Wildcats were shooting threes like they were in warmups. ‘Nova went 10-19 from beyond the arc for the entire game.

•    As good as the Wildcats were offensively, I thought they were better on the other end of the floor. Their switching defenses frustrated Jarrod Uthoff and Peter Jok and also created turnovers that led to transition opportunities.

“When I shook hands with Fran [McCaffrey], I just said, ‘I’m sorry,” Wright said. “We haven’t played a half like that in a long time.” 

•    After Villanova played a boring (but effective) second half, Wright took out his seniors with a couple minutes left to play. But when Iowa got the lead down to 16 points with 1:30 left, Wright surprisingly reinserted his starters back on the floor. He was scurred.

“I was scared and I knew the firepower of Iowa,” Wright told sideline reporter Allie LaForce while laughing. “They can bang out some threes real quick, and I just thought, ‘We can’t blow this.’”

Yeah, the move was probably unnecessary. But after watching Northern Iowa completely melt down a few hours later, maybe you never can be too careful.

•    It’s unclear why a ‘Nova win causes Dickie V to moonwalk, but here we are: 

•    I haven’t heard this one before, but the ‘Nova players apparently call Arcidiacono Wright’s son in jest. Arch played in a school-record 140th game, and Wright said some interesting stuff about their relationship after the game.

“I really don’t talk to him that much,” Wright said. “It’s amazing. He is me, he takes care of everything. I really do worry about not having him here next year because I’m going to have to work harder. Everything he does is what I do, everything he thinks about is what I think about. So I never meet with him and it really allows me to coach the other guys because my best player I don’t really have to spend time with.”

•    The tourney committee did Villanova zero favors. Of the 16 teams left dancing, the South Region has three of the top six in the KenPom ratings. They are Kansas, ‘Nova, and Miami, the Wildcats’ next opponent.

I had ‘Nova going to the Elite Eight before the tourney started and saw nothing to change my mind over the weekend, but Miami is an excellent team. The Hurricanes, who feature Neumann-Goretti’s Ja’Quan Newton, just knocked off an excellent Wichita State team in impressive fashion. They feature a couple of guards capable of dominating a game.

So as well as ‘Nova is playing, this feels like a toss-up. Pick: Villanova 75, Miami 71

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann