Villanova’s quest to return to the Final Four begins Thursday when the surprisingly second-seeded Wildcats take on 15th-seeded Robert Morris in the first round of the South Region of the NCAA Tournament in Providence, R.I.
Robert Morris (21-11) won the Northeast Conference Tournament.
The winner meets either Richmond or St. Mary’s on Saturday.
'Nova (24-7) fell to Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament and has won just two of its last seven games.
"You can see they have great respect for our program over a period of time, not just this season," coach Jay Wright said. "We’re really, really excited to get this thing going.”
The Wildcats are making their sixth straight trip to the Big Dance under Wright. They have gone 11-5 in the NCAAs since 2005 and advanced to their fourth Final Four in program history last season in Detroit.
If 'Nova wants to make it five, Scottie Reynolds is once again going to have to carry the team on his back. "We always play for the players that came before us," Reynolds said. "They put us in a great posititon to be here today. We hope they keep following us to Providence and further than that.”
The senior guard is averaging 18.5 points per game and 3.3 assists per game, while shooting almost 40 percent from three-point range. However, he’s struggled in his last two games, shooting a combined 9-for-26 from the field, including 3-for-14 from beyond the arc.
Said senior guard Reggie Redding: “It’s up to us to show them we deserved it. It’s really incredible. I don’t think there will be any more pressure than if we were any other seed. The pressure is in the game. We’ve been in a lot of pressure moments. If you can’t handle it, then you can’t play at this level. It’s a new season for us. We can’t sob over the losses we had recently. We have to put that behind us.”
15 ROBERT MORRIS (23-11)
Location: Moon Township, Pa. Conference: Northeast.
Bid: Automatic. RPI: 129. Strength of Schedule Rank: 259.
NCAA Tournament Record: 1-6 (0 Titles, 0 Final Fours).
Last NCAA: 2009, Lost in first round to Michigan St., 77-62
Head Coach: Mike Rice
School and Overall: 73-30 (3 years).
Probable Starters, Pos., Hgt., Yr., Pts., Reb., FG%, FT%
Karon Abraham, G, 5-9, Fr., 13.4, 2.2, 42.9, 85.3
Velton Jones, G, 6-0, So., 8.2, 2.2, 39.5, 58.3
Mezie Nwigwe, G, 6-4, Sr., 8.2, 4.3, 41.9, 74.3
Rob Robinson, F, 6-8, Sr., 9.9, 5.5, 50.9, 38.7
Dallas Green, F, 6-8, Sr., 6.5, 4.9, 53.1, 69.9
Other Key Players
Russell Johnson, F, 6-6, So., 7.3, 5.1, 37.0, 58.0
Gary Wallace, G, 6-3, Jr., 5.8, 1.8, 43.0, 76.2
Josiah Whitehead, F, 6-6, Sr., 3.9, 1.8, 59.2, 75.6
About the Colonials: Abraham, the conference Rookie of the Year, ranked second in the NEC in three-point percentage (44.2%) and first in free-throw shooting ... Colonials have a strong Philadelphia connection: Velton Jones is from North Catholic; Russell Johnson, Chester; Lijah Thompson, Monsignor Bonner; Khalif Foster, Academy of the New Church. Mike Rice is a former Saint Joseph’s assistant. Andrew Toole, an ex-Penn player, and Jimmy Martelli, son of Hawks coach Phil, are RMU assistants ... Rice’s teams have won 73 games in the last three seasons ... Robert Morris was known as the “Financier of the American Revolution.”