Villanova grabs tourney ticket, definitively

PHILADELPHIA -- Jay Wright was sitting at J.D. McGillicuddy’s doing his radio show Monday night when the Villanova coach glanced up at one of the television screens in the restaurant.

He looked right in time to see the most popular graphic of the season -- Joe Lunardi’s updated Bracketology information.

"It said we were in," Wright said. "I was like, ‘We’re in? Really?'"

That was then.

This is now.

It’s time to stop worrying about popping bubbles and instead pop the champagne on the Main Line.

Villanova is in the NCAA tournament.

No, I am not Mike Bobinski, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I feel fairly confident speaking on behalf of the NCAA tournament selection committee chair on this one.

Barring something apocalyptic (and if the apocalypse can happen in any college basketball season, I suppose it would be this one), Villanova is in the NCAA tournament.

How could it be otherwise for the Wildcats?

Villanova beat Georgetown on Wednesday night 67-57, stopping one of the hottest teams in the country in its tracks. Depending on your point of view, Villanova may or may not have gotten a little assistance from a favorable whistle (42 free throws attempted to eight) -- "I’ll keep my issues to myself," Hoyas coach John Thompson III said when asked -- but the Wildcats won, and at this time of year, that’s all that matters.

The victory over the No. 5 Hoyas gives Villanova three W's against top-five teams and makes it 4-1 against teams in the Top 25. The Wildcats finish the regular season 10-8 in the Big East, 19-12 overall.

That is an NCAA tournament résumé.

Kentucky, Ole Miss, Southern Miss and Alabama, the crop of first-four-out teams that would be chasing the Wildcats, can’t say that. Of that quartet, in fact, none has a single win against a team with an RPI of 25 or better.

"You know what, I would think so," Wright said with surprising candor when asked if he thought Villanova was in. "… We’ve got 10 wins in this league and some of those wins are high-caliber wins. Even the losses, like Providence, that’s supposed to be a bad loss, but they’re going to win 10 games in this league so that’s not a bad loss. I like where we are right now. I think we’re in a good spot."

Yes, there are blemishes, but let he among the bubble dwellers who does not have a blemish cast the first stone.

To Villanova’s Columbia loss, Virginia offers Boston College and losses to three teams from the dreadful Colonial Athletic Association. To the Wildcats’ ill-timed defeat at the hands of Seton Hall, Tennessee gives you Georgia.

The fact is, there’s a lot of ugly out there, but the Wildcats have enough good to counter it.

As for Georgetown, this isn’t exactly a deal-breaker. Figuring out who is a No. 1 seed is as difficult as figuring out who the No. 1 team is. The Hoyas' grip on a top seed is slipping, but not entirely through their fingers. Not yet, anyway, with Syracuse still on tap Saturday to finish out the regular season.

Thompson, though, wasn’t too interested in tourney talk or fretting. Blessed with the luxury of knowing his team is in, he was more concerned about a more immediate prize -- the Big East regular-season title.

The Hoyas, once in control, now drop into a tie with Louisville and Marquette at 13-4 in the league.

"We needed this game also," said Thompson, whose team fell to 23-5 as its 11-game win streak came to a crashing halt. "We’re trying to win a championship and that’s just as important. We felt like we were just as desperate."

At this time of year, though, there is desperate, and then there is last-chance desperate. Villanova was last-chance desperate.

When the Wildcats lost to Columbia -- and not just lost, they lost by 18 -- Wright called it plainly.

"We were bad," he said.

The unhappy hecklers in and around Philly found their voices, frustrated with what looked like yet another Villanova season gone south.

Administratively, Wright was never on the hot seat; publicly, he was not exactly the golden child he once was.

But this team is the sort that Wright likes. The players are blue-collar and hard workers, grit sprinkled in with their talent. The Wildcats got better steadily, if not consistently and overwhelmingly.

That said, they still threatened more than once to be their own worst enemy. Villanova followed its unbelievable week of beating Syracuse and Louisville (putting Nova in the tournament) with back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Providence (out).

Two weeks later, the Wildcats regrouped again, stringing together three consecutive victories, including one against Marquette (in), before losing not only to Seton Hall and Pittsburgh, but losing games they should have won (bubble at best).

"You can’t say don’t look at it or don’t pay attention to it because it’s everywhere," Wright said of the tourney talk. "They’re going to see it. After we lost to Marquette and Pittsburgh, they all heard people saying, ‘Oh you’re out,’ so we just tell them to control what they can control."

Turns out Villanova actually controlled its destiny, too.