Gilbert: Super Nova will last the longest in the Big Dance

By By Jon Gilbert and By Jon Gilbert

By Jon Gilbert

Before the NCAA men’s basketball tournament started, I planned how I was going to spend the $10,000 grand prize that was going to pay me for my winning bracket. Less than a week later, I’m back to budgeting paycheck to paycheck.

All of my brackets have been busted, if not totally annihilated. Among the teams helping to destroy my chances of a tropical vacation and no student debt are Siena, Davidson and Western Kentucky. San Diego eliminated my surprise Final Four team when it ousted Connecticut.

So, now that all of my lavish plans for experiencing the joy $10,000 can bring a man are gone, it’s time to root for the nobodies.

Kind of.

Of the remaining Cinderella stories, Villanova’s will last the longest. The Wildcats aren’t exactly new to the tournament, so it is difficult to call them a Cinderella. They won the 1985 national championship and were a No. 1 seed two years ago.

However, this season brought struggles for a team with high expectations.

Coming off a win at Syracuse, N.Y., on Jan. 19, Villanova was packing a 13-3 record and a Top-25 ranking. They looked like a solid bet for a high seed in the tourney. But then, inexplicably, Nova lost five straight and six of seven.

In fact, the Wildcats’ razor-thin berth came over several other teams with reputable tournament resumes. Ohio State and Virginia Tech were left out and settled for the National Invitation Tournament. Jim Boeheim expressed his discontent that his Syracuse Orange were left out of the Big Dance for what he felt were lesser teams.

Nova was one team that made the field of 65 by surprise. The Wildcats haven’t taken it for granted so far, and they won’t be going home as soon as many might think.

Missouri made history in 2002 by making the final eight as a 12 seed. Nova will give them company with a win over Kansas. The No. 1 seed Jayhawks have a knack for getting beaten by underdogs under the guidance of Bill Self.

If they can get by Kansas, the Wildcats would move on to the Elite Eight and have a chance to make the Final Four. As No. 11 seeds, Louisiana State (1986) and George Mason (2006) are the lowest-seeded teams to make the Final Four, so 12-seeded Nova would one-up them both with a trip to San Antonio.

Although Nova would still be the lower seed in an Elite Eight matchup against either Davidson or Wisconsin, both teams would have their hands full with the Wildcats. They are a dangerous team and have a formula for success in March.

They have the experience of playing in the brutal Big East conference, a potent scorer in Scottie Reynolds (16.4 points per game) and a coach, Jay Wright, who has been to the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight as Villanova’s head coach.

Then there are the intangibles. One goes by the name of Corey Stokes. Villanova’s late-season revival has a lot to do with the freshman’s emergence as a scorer. His season-high 20 points against Siena propelled his team to the Sweet 16.

But more important than anything else, more important than any player or coach, is Villanova’s attitude. Basically everyone has counted them out. That’s what will ultimately fuel it to the Elite Eight and maybe farther. Everyone expects them to arrive in San Antonio about as much as I expect to arrive in Cancún.

[email protected]