Villanova hasn’t reached the Final Four since 2009. In fact, the Wildcats haven’t gotten out of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009 – until now.
Villanova ran Iowa out of the gym on Sunday, leading by 25 at halftime and ultimately winning, 87-68.
The monkey is off the back, right?
“Yeah, definitely,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We tried to use that with our guys as a learning experience. Hey, we went to the Final Four in 2009, and since then we hadn’t been past the first weekend. It is what it is. It’s the media’s job to talk about that and ask about it, even though a lot of the guys on this team really didn’t have much to do with that. They did the last couple years, but we got a couple freshmen. This is their first tournament. We told them you got to deal with it.”
They did. Villanova won its first two tournament games by a combined 49 points.
“I think for everybody except the players, there’s a great burden lifted,” Wright said. “Everyone around the program – administrators, alumni and even faculty – they’ve been here the whole time. I think they were rooting for us so hard. The players just had no burden. I don’t think it feels that way to them. We’re here in Louisville now. Just watching them go about their business, practice this morning, it’s just the next game for them. We got a really mature group that’s handling things well. I’m glad. I’m glad that they really weren’t affected by it, but the rest of us were. We had to deal with it for a while.”
No. 2 Villanova (31-5) will play No. 3 Miami (27-7) in the Sweet 16 on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
The Hurricanes, who held on to beat Buffalo and Wichita State this past weekend, are led by seniors Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan, among other veterans.
“They’re older than the 76ers,” Wright joked. “This is a really similar matchup. Even look at their wings, McClellan versus Josh Hart. (Davon) Reed is a shooter like Kris Jenkins and (Ryan) Arcidiacono and Rodriguez – it really is a really interesting matchup. Jim Larranaga has those guys playing defensively, rebounding the ball, and offensively (they’re) kind of like us – not real complicated, but basic and fundamental and everybody plays their roles. They’re a tough team, physical. We are. It is a really good matchup.”
The Wildcats, who rely heavily on the three-point shot, are hotter than they’ve been all season. They shot 30 percent from distance in January, 36 percent in February and are shooting 44.7 percent in March.
If victorious against Miami, Villanova would play the winner of Kansas versus Maryland in the Elite Eight on Saturday.