Monday, March 15, 2010

The Path to Indy

The field of 65 has been announced, and despite their losses down the stretch, Villanova was rewarded with a 2-seed in the South Region. The path to Indianopolis is long and treacherous, but here is what Villanova will have to do to return to the Final Four...

Round 1: vs. #15 Robert Morris Colonials (23-11)
First of all, who is Robert Morris? The school, located in Pittsburgh, PA, was founded in 1921, and is named after... wait for it... Robert Morris, who signed the Declaration of Independence and helped finance the Revolutionary War. According to Wikipedia their notable alumni include Hank Fraley, Tim Hall, Tim Levcik, Robb Butler, Kevin Colbert, and Jerry Bowyer... a real who's who of F-list celebrities. Since when do Arena Football League players count as notable alumni? Robert Morris is in the Northeast Conference, along with Farleigh Dickinson, who Villanova beat 84-61 in their first game of the season. Robert Morris swept FDU in the season series, 80-73 and 65-50. This is Robert Morris' seventh trip to the Big Dance, but the Colonials are better known for their world-class bowling team, (2007 National runners-up) which has produced several professional bowlers, such as Roy Munson and Ernie McCracken. Robert Morris played two Big East teams this season: 11/11 they lost 100-60 at Syracuse and 2/8 they lost 77-53 at Pitt.

Villanova has recently struggled as a high seed in these opening round games of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, as a 3-seed, they trailed 14-seed American for much of the game, then finally pulled away late in the second half for a 80-67 victory. In 2006 as a 1-seed, Villanova had trouble early with 16-seed Monmouth, who they eventually beat 58-45. I wouldn't be surprised if history repeats itself and Robert Morris gets out to an early lead on Villanova, and the score may be close at halftime. Nova fans and office pool participants across the country will sweat as whispers of "Cinderella" are heard. However, just as in years past, Villanova's depth and athleticism will over power the mid-major Colonials in the second half, and the Wildcats will cruise to a double-digit victory.

Round 2: vs. #7 Richmond (26-8) or #10 St. Mary's (26-5)
St. Mary's beat Gonzaga 81-62 to win the WCC Tournament, and Richmond has a 71-54 victory over Temple, a team Villanova lost to earlier in the season, although Nova-killer Juan Fernandez did not play in that game. Both are solid teams that pose a legitimate challenge to Nova. Nevertheless, you have got to like Villanova's chances of getting to the Sweet Sixteen for the third year in a row.

Round 3: vs. #3 Baylor or #6 Notre Dame or #11 Old Dominion or #14 Sam Houston
The Baylor Bears are the favorite to make it to Houston from the New Orleans pod. I think they will, and frankly I can't wait because Baylor's players have some epic names that make Ole Miss and South Florida pale in comparison: LaceDarius Dunn, Tweety Carter, Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy, Dragan Sekelja, and Givon Crump. Luckily, games aren't decided by name originality, so I think Villanova moves on the Elite Eight.

Round 4: vs. #1 Duke or #4 Purdue or #5 Texas A&M or #8 California or #9 Louisville or #12 Utah St. or #13 Siena
Obviously a lot of different scenarios are in play here. I think Louisville has a great shot at upsetting Duke in the second round. Purdue and A&M have a chance, but Villanova will most likely be looking at a rematch of last year's Sweet Sixteen against the #1 Blue Devils. This is almost the same exact Duke team that Villanova manhandled 77-54 last year, minus the now NBA player Gerald Henderson, but the Blue Devils may have been better off without his 1-14 shooting performance that night anyway. Nova lost Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark three of that team's toughest and most physical defenders, and it was that physical play that gave Duke fits. This year's Villanova team isn't as good defensively, but Duke doesn't scare me at all. I think Villanova has an excellent shot to return to the Final Four this year, but they have to take care of Robert Morris first.

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