Twenty-five years ago, Villanova pulled the biggest upset in college basketball history when Rollie Massimino's team stunned mighty Georgetown in the NCAA championship. Today, the Wildcats narrowly avoided being on the other side of a tournament stunner. They can thank the referees for helping them do so.
Some controversial calls aided No. 2 Villanova in a thrilling, 73-70 overtime win over No. 15 Robert Morris in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Robert Morris, a tiny school of 4,000 in Pittsburgh, had led the Wildcats for much of the game but fell victim to some dicey officiating near the end of regulation and in overtime.
Villanova star Scottie Reynolds, who was benched at the start of the game for discplinary reasons, was the beneficiary of many of the whistles. Though he was an ice-cold 2-of-15 from the field, he shot 16 free throws and seemed to get away with multiple charges, push-offs and hand-checks. On The Dagger's live chat, one panelist said Reynolds was getting as many calls as Michael Jordan in his heyday.
One call was a microcosm of the rest of the game: With Villanova leading by four in overtime, Robert Morris ran a defensive trap at midcourt and appeared to cleanly force a jump ball. But an official whose vision of the play was obscured by the bodies of the three players involved in the scrum whistled a foul on the Colonials. Objectively, it wasn't even close.
After Villanova received a No. 2 seed in the tournament, critics complained that the team was overseeded. The Wildcats had lost five of their last seven games and hardly seemed worthy of the No. 2 placement in what was deemed the weakest of the NCAA's four regionals. Jay Wright's team did nothing to disprove that notion Thursday.
It took some big shots and some favorable whistles to avoid becoming only the fifth No. 2 seed to lose in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The win was there for the taking for Robert Morris. But Villanova and the officials did just enough to snatch it away.