Trying to predict Villanova

It's not easy trying to figure out how Villanova will perform in its opening game of the NCAA tournament Friday against George Mason at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.

Some theories:

The Wildcats enter the game on a five-game losing streak and have lost their confidence. Bad.

The Wildcats have had the last nine days off to get healthy and receive heaping doses of Jay Wright persuading them that they're good. Good.

The Wildcats are only one misstep away from losing Corey Stokes or Corey Fisher once again. Bad.

The seniors -- Stokes, Fisher and Antonio Pena -- are ultra-determined to do anything to keep from finishing their Villanova careers with a six-game losing streak. Good.

Wright sounds convinced that he thinks the Wildcats will be fine mentally, even going so far Thursday as to say that Nova's 21-11 record was comparable to the 21-11 mark of St. John's, even though the Red Storm posted four victories over teams that were in the top 13 at the time they played them. The Wildcats defeated one -- Syracuse.

"There was an article (in the New York Post) about St. John's and what a great year they had and how they've been restored to prominence," he said. "I just happened to read their record was 21-11 and it was the same as ours.

"In Philly, 21-11 and Villanova are a horrible season. But that's OK. I'm just learning. We're all learning that that's part of what you have to deal with"

Well, whatever works. The Wildcats are 5-10 in their last 15, 2-7 in their last nine and 0-5 since their last win on Feb. 19. But this is a new season and Wright and his seniors have used the off time since South Florida to reinforce the Xs and Os and the confidence.

However, since his team's shocking loss last week to South Florida in the Big East tournament, he has been trying to get his team going in the areas of the actual on-court game.

"There's a lot of things on the court -- defense, rebounding and shot selection -- that I'm not happy with in the past," Wright said Thursday at his off-day press conference at the Q. "But I'm really proud of how these (players) have handled expectations, how they've handled this run here.

"I think they've put us in a position to really enjoy this tournament and really be confident going in."

So what will happen against a George Mason team that's strong on guard play and can really shoot the basketball?

First of all, Stokes, Fisher and Maalik Wayns all have to be on offensively. Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou, who is ready to return after his fall against South Florida, must defend the paint and rebound. And the Cats' bench players have to keep up with the deeper Patriots.

I see this as being a close game throughout. The Wildcats must eliminate any recall of their second-half collapse against USF. And they can't allow the Patriots to tee it up all alone from three-point range.

I see the Wildcats moving on, 67-64. Let me know your prediction.

--Joe Juliano