As he walked off the Wells Fargo Center court to a standing ovation with 40.9 seconds left and his team holding a commanding 16-point lead, Ryan Arcidiacono insists he didn’t have the same thought running through his mind as every other Villanova fan in the building.
Will he be back?
With the NCAA East Regionals taking place in that very arena from March 25 to 27, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine the 27-4 Wildcats returning to their home away from home for the Sweet Sixteen. But first Nova has to take care of business in the early rounds to get there, something they’ve failed to do in the one-and-done post-season.
That why Arcidiacono wouldn’t allow himself to look that far ahead, after scoring 16 points and handing out five assists, as the Cats handled Georgetown 84-71 in what will likely be preview of their Big East Tournament opening game Thursday. His mantra has always been, “One day at a time. One game at a time.”
So he’s not about to change now.
“I’ll tell the guys what we tell them all year,” said Arcidiacono when asked how Nova will approach things now that it’s tournament time, the Big East, followed by the NCAAs. “It’s prepare for one day at a time. One game at a time. If we try to do anything special because it’s the Big East Tournament or the NCAA Tournament everybody would be messed up.
“If we defend and we rebound we’ll be in games. Offensively we’ll start making shots, but if we grind defensively, force some turnovers and get out in transition we’ll be successful.”
Assuming Georgetown can get past 9-21 DePaul in their tournament opener, they’ll get another shot at the Wildcats Thursday, which gives Jay Wright cause for concern. Nova has only six games all season decided by less than double figures. One of them was against the Hoyas (55-50 on Jan. 16).
Regardless of what happens in New York this week, though, the microscope will be on the No. 3 ranked Wildcats once the Big Dance gets underway. With Villanova expected to be at worst a No, 2 seed — and likely a No. 1 in the East — two wins would get them back to the Wells Fargo Center.
As nice as that sounds, Wright and Co. won’t be so presumptuous.
“That’s not at all easy to envision,” said Wright, who praised seniors Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, who’ve compiled a 109-26 career record. “I’m sure there have to be a lot of things to happen for us to be seeded like that and we have to win games. So we don’t think about that yet. When we evaluate our program our evaluation process based on what we do in the regular season. This is just tournament time. You’ve got to go lay it all out there and have fun with it. But these are what you get evaluated on. We know it.
“It’s one and done. You know if you lose a game you don’t have a chance to come back and fix it. It’s exciting.”
Especially if they can get over what’s become as much of a mental than physical hurdle in the second round and punch their ticket to the Sweet 16. Since making it to the Final Four in 2009 Villanova hasn’t made it out of the first weekend in five tries, twice losing as a No. 2 seed (to Saint Mary’s in 2010 and to 2014 champ UConn), before tumbling to N.C,. State as a No. 1 last year.
Until they get over that hump it will be the only thing anyone talks about — and they know it. But Wright wants his team to embrace that reality rather than shrink from it. They know what’s at stake, and can’t wait for the fun to begin.
And they also know if three weeks from now they’re right back here for the Sweet Sixteen this already memorable season might turn into something really special.