NEW YORK -- One non-call might end up costing Villanova a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
A potential game-winning layup by Josh Hart was knocked away by Angel Delgado -- with quite a bit of contact -- and Seton Hall held on to beat Villanova 69-67 for the Big East tournament championship on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
Seton Hall continued its surprising run, winning the tournament title for the first time in 23 years and clinching its first NCAA tournament bid since 2006. Isaiah Whitehead, a player many thought had a legitimate case for Big East Player of the Year, finished with 26 points, including the go-ahead finish and foul with 18 seconds left. Whitehead earned the tourney's most outstanding player honors, and deservedly so.
The sophomore guard from Brooklyn put the Pirates on his back on so many occasions this season, and Saturday night was no different. He came out with a purpose, scoring nine points in the opening 11 minutes, and never came out of attack mode. Whitehead didn’t get the help he has received the past couple of weeks from Khadeen Carrington, but Desi Rodriguez (12 points) and Derrick Gordon (10 points) hit timely shots, and Ismael Sanogo (eight points, nine rebounds) was something of an unsung hero in the paint.
With the way Seton Hall is playing, the Pirates are capable of winning games next week in the NCAA tournament. They’re defending as well as anyone in the country, and Whitehead is the type of player who can single-handedly win a game. Throw in the unselfishness and toughness that they have shown in New York City over the past three games, and they're a team no one will want to face. Moreover, with three wins in three days, Seton Hall has certainly pushed out of the 8-seed vs. 9-seed and 7-seed vs. 10-seed logjams in the NCAAs and could vault as high as a No. 5 seed.
Does Villanova stay on the 1 line?
Villanova has been in the conversation for a No. 1 seed for most of this season and has not really left its perch for the past couple of months. But with the way conference tournaments are shaking out, there’s a chance Jay Wright’s Wildcats could be sitting on the 2 line come selection time.
They had a top-five RPI and a top-20 strength of schedule heading into Saturday, but they lack the marquee wins that some of the other No. 1-seed candidates possess. A home win back in December is Villanova’s only top-20 RPI win, although that could balloon to three if Seton Hall moves into the top 20; Villanova swept two regular-season meetings with the Pirates. On the plus side are the power numbers and the fact that only one loss has come outside of the RPI top 25.
There are essentially only two locks for top seeds at this point: Kansas and North Carolina. If Michigan State wins the Big Ten, coupled with Oregon's dominating win in the Pac-12 title game, Villanova could theoretically be dropped a line. Don’t forget, the loser of the ACC tournament championship (Virginia) will also have a legitimate case.
Historical context of Villanova’s Big East vs. NCAA tournament performances
While there’s no proof of any legitimate relationship between conference tournament performance and NCAA tournament performance, there have been some interesting correlations for Villanova over the past 11 years.
Since 2005 -- Villanova’s first NCAA tournament appearance under Wright -- the Wildcats have been bounced in their first Big East tournament game on three occasions. In those three seasons -- 2010, 2011 and 2014 -- Villanova didn’t get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
The one time during that stretch when Villanova won the conference tournament -- last season -- the Wildcats were bounced by NC State in the round of 32.
Villanova’s deepest NCAA tournament runs have come when it won one game before losing in the Big East tournament -- including the Wildcats’ Final Four run back in 2009.
This season doesn’t really have a predecessor under Wright -- Villanova had not lost in the conference title game since 1997. We’ll have to wait until next week -- likely just a few miles away in Brooklyn -- to find out whether Villanova’s first-weekend NCAA tournament woes continue.