TAMPA, Fla. (AP)—Villanova coach Jay Wright spent the last three days talking to his team about avoiding a letdown following the emotional high of getting into the NCAA tournament.
He won’t know if it sank in until Friday night, when the 12th-seeded Wildcats take the court against No. 5 seed Clemson (24-9) in the opening round of the tournament’s Midwest Regional.
“We want them to understand these opportunities in life only come up once in a while,” Wright said. “Nothing else is guaranteed. They’ve got to take advantage of it right now.”
The Wildcats (20-12) were one of the last teams to get into the tournament. They won six of their final nine games, including what amounted to an elimination game against Syracuse in the opening round of the Big East tournament.
But they followed that with a 19-point loss to Georgetown that put the Wildcats back on the bubble and left them waiting anxiously for the selection show.
When the brackets were revealed, the players were relieved. Wright, though, started looking for ways to get them focused on the Tigers.
Even though the Wildcats have played in the last three NCAA tournaments and reached a regional final two years ago before losing to eventual champion Florida, Wright was concerned his young team would be content with just getting in and already looking toward next season.
“We feel privileged to be in this position right now,” guard and leading scorer Scottie Reynolds said. “The great teams that go on to win and be champions are the ones that are not satisfied. … We’ve got more to go.”
History might agree.
No program has recorded more upsets in the NCAA tournament than Villanova, which has 12 wins as a lower-seeded team since 1979.
“The basketball program means a lot, but also the kind of guys you get when you get to the NCAA tournament,” Wright said. “They know there’s a lot expected of them and they take pride in that tradition. I hope we can keep that up in this tournament.”
Clemson would prefer not to be another victim.
In the NCAA field for the first time since 1998, the Tigers are hoping to build on their late-season push.
They won seven of their last 10 games and advanced to the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament before losing to top-seeded North Carolina 86-81.
Nonetheless, none of Clemson’s players knows what it’s like to play in the NCAA’s premier basketball event.
“I don’t think we’re concerned about a lack of experience in the NCAA tournament because we’ve played tournament-worthy teams and teams that are in the tournament,” said senior guard Cliff Hammonds, who pointed to last year’s NIT run. “We’ve been in tournament atmospheres and tournament situations. … We’re just as tournament-experienced as any team in the country because of that.”
Teammate K.C. Rivers agreed, saying the only ACC-Big East matchup in the opening round should come down to something much less tangible than experience.
“At this point in time in the season, there are no records,” he said. “The seeds play no factor. It’s just a matter of who wants it more. Who wants to win and advance. It’s not about how long or how many years you’ve been to the tournament or how many times you’ve made it. It’s about who wants it the most. That’s what it comes down to.”
For Wright and the Wildcats, though, it might come down to making sure they can avoid a letdown.
“I think what affects your team the most is the mind-set,” Wright said. “It’s not their seed. It’s how they’re playing coming into the tournament. I think our guys feel like we’re playing well.”