by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
The late season collapse continued for Villanova on Tuesday when the Wildcats blew a 16-point halftime lead to fall to South Florida 80-79 in the first round of the Big East tournament. The loss was Villanova’s fifth in a row. No team has ever made the NCAA tournament after losing five straight to end the season.
Early on, it appeared as though the game was going to be an easy win and a confidence booster for Villanova. However, after leading 49-33 at the half by running all over the Bulls, Jay Wright had his team slow the pace and milk the clock, a strategy that proved disastrous in the team’s previous game against Pittsburgh when the Wildcats scored 50 points, their lowest total since 2004.
After a couple missed free throws by Villanova that allowed South Florida to close the gap to one, Maalik Wayns threw an inexplicable inbound pass right to South Florida’s Anthony Crater, who was standing under the basket. His easy layup gave South Florida a one-point lead with 22 seconds to play.
After Wayns converted on two free throws to put Villanova ahead again, Wright substituted out Corey Fisher, the team’s leading scorer, and put Dominic Cheek, who had played just seven minutes, into the game to guard Crater. As Crater approached the 3-point arc, Cheek looked in the opposite direction, allowing Crater to blow past him for an easy layup with five seconds remaining.
Without Fisher not on the floor, Wayns was the only ballhander remaining and his mad dash as time expired resulted in an errant shot and yet another loss for Villanova.
Now the team’s NCAA tournament hopes might be in jeopardy.
From The Star-Ledger:
Now Wright is going to be forced to start paying attention because his Wildcats are in a precarious situation.
“We haven’t talked about any of it,” a visibly dejected Wright said Tuesday night after the Wildcats’ stunning 70-69 loss to South Florida. “We were concentrating on the Big East Tournament. So, I know this sounds bizarre, but I don’t know where we stand with any of that and I will find out tomorrow, but I would say after this: There is a little concern and I just have to look at the situation.”
Will Villanova make the NCAA tournament? In any other year the answer would be no. But luckily for the Wildcats this is a down year across all of college basketball. That being said, Villanova has little ground to stand on if the committee decides to keep the Wildcats out of the tournament.