March Madness: Villanova earns No. 1 seed in East region in NCAA tournament, will play LIU-Brooklyn or Radford

Led by Jalen Brunson, the Villanova Wildcats secured a No. 1 seed in the 2018 NCAA tournament.

As expected, Villanova received a No. 1 seed Sunday for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. The not-quite-expected part of the Wildcats’ sixth consecutive berth in the Big Dance is that they won’t know the identity of their opponent until about 9 p.m. Tuesday.

The Cats (30-4), champions of the Big East tournament, will meet the winner of the First Four game Tuesday in Dayton, Ohio, between a pair of 16 seeds, LIU-Brooklyn (18-16) of the Northeast Conference, and Radford (22-12) of the Big South. They’ll open the tournament Thursday night in Pittsburgh at PPG Paints Arena.

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“Our assistants, I know when they saw that, they’re like, ‘Oh!’” ‘Nova coach Jay Wright said Sunday after the team assembled at the Connelly Center to watch the selection show. “It just means that they’re watching more tape of two different teams.

“I don’t know them well enough yet to know if they’re similar. If they’re kind of similar teams, it’s not as bad. But if they’re really distinctively different styles, it’s hard, because we’ll practice for the next two days doing two different styles. Then when you find out who wins, you’ll pick one style. But hey, it’s all part of it.”

The Wildcats faced a similar dilemma last year, only having one full day to prepare for Mount St. Mary’s, which won its First Four game in Dayton before facing ‘Nova in Buffalo.

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LIU-Brooklyn, which upset regular-season champion Wagner at Wagner to win the Northeast tournament, is more of a faster-paced team offensively.  Radford, which hit a last-second shot to win its league tournament title at home, likes to dig in on defense.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
The Villanova bench celebrates during a 2nd half run in the Big East Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2018.

Wright also dismissed the possibility that playing a Tuesday night game would wear down the winning team. He pointed to the 2013 NCAAs and La Salle, which won in Dayton and advanced all the way to the Sweet 16.

“Sometimes those teams playing a game, they’re a little more ready for the [next] game,” he said. “But we’ve got to be ready, that’s the bottom line.”

Villanova wrapped up its second straight Big East crown and third in the last four years on Saturday night with a 76-66 overtime victory over Providence at Madison Square Garden. That enabled the Wildcats to reach the 30-win plateau for the fourth consecutive season.

The Wildcats’ NCAA bid is their 13th in the last 14 seasons, and marked their third No. 1 seed since 2015. They are seeded No. 2 overall this year. They were No. 1 overall last year but were upset by Wisconsin in the second round.

Only five Cats – Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall – have NCAA experience going into this year’s tournament. Bridges, the most outstanding player of the Big East tournament, said it’s a matter of guiding younger, inexperienced players to the extra attention.

“Experience is valuable,” he said. “We have people that have been through it that played on the national championship team. We help young guys know what it’s about but we tell them it’s just another game. There’s nothing different. Just go out there and treat it like a regular game, prepare like we usually prepare, and be ready.”

Wildcats fans don’t have good memories of their team’s last NCAA trip to Pittsburgh in 2015 when it was eliminated by No. 9 seed North Carolina State in the second round. But in 2016, they opened what would be a successful national championship run by beating that year’s Big South champion, UNC-Asheville.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Phil Booth of Villanova dunks against Providence during the 2nd half in the Big East Tournament Championship Game at Madison Square Garden on March 10, 2018.