Who's the Real Villanova After Shocking Upset to Seton Hall in Big East Tourney?

Brian PedersenFeatured ColumnistMarch 13, 2014

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The Wildcat is among the most common mascots in college basketball, so it takes much more than a nickname for a school to stand out from the crowd.

Arizona's Wildcats do so by being a near-lock for a No. 1 seed, having spent eight weeks atop the polls. Kentucky's Wildcats get plenty of attention thanks to John Calipari's fondness for freshmen superstars—and of late, for those first-year guys underachieving.

Even the Kansas State Wildcats have a lot of notoriety thanks to dynamic freshman Marcus Foster, one of the loudest arenas in the country and a spot in the nation's top conference, the Big 12.

But what about Villanova? What do we know about these Wildcats?

After Thursday's shocking loss to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament quarterfinals, at least one thing is certain: Villanova isn't going to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and might not be nearly as good as its record and ranking would indicate.

The Philadelphia-based Wildcats (28-4) found themselves down by 13 in the first half to the Big East's eighth-place finisher, but then used their superior talent and skill to take the lead. But unlike the teams that are serious championship contenders at this point of the season, 'Nova allowed Seton Hall to stick around and feed off of the underdog-loving crowd that Big East tourneys at Madison Square Garden are famous for.

The result? Seton Hall gets a game-winning shot at the buzzer by bench player Sterling Gibbs, who managed to create his own space for the shot in the final four seconds of a one-point game.

That's not what big-time teams normally allow.

Villanova entered this week as the frontrunner for the fourth No. 1 seed in the NCAA tourney, a spot that seems like no one wants. The Wildcats' resume wasn't as stocked full of big-time wins as other candidates—they beat Kansas and Iowa, but that was on a neutral court back in late November—so they needed to run the table in the Big East to make that happen.

And it didn't, and now 'Nova falls back into the pack and could end up as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed next week. And the performance against Seton Hall puts the Wildcats into that perilous category of a top team ripe for an early exit at the hands of a Cinderella.

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13:  Head coach Jay Wright of the Villanova Wildcats walks off the court after the loss to Seton Hall Pirates during the quarterfinals of the Big East Basketball Tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 13, 2014 in New York City.S
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It's not the result itself that should be most concerning to 'Nova coach Jay Wright, as his long tenure in the Big East has given him a front-row seat to that tournament's propensity for upsets. Rather, it's how his team looked on Thursday afternoon, only seeming to play with March-like intensity when it was down double-digits.

The comeback was championship-worthy, but the complacency that followed was more emblematic of a team that has nothing to prove.

Villanova's other three losses were more lopsided, falling at Syracuse in late December and getting blown out twice by Creighton. The Wildcats had survived three road overtime games in Big East play, including a double-overtime victory at Providence a few weeks back, which showed their ability to play their best ball in tight games.

Maybe getting a No. 1 seed wasn't that important to Villanova, as Wright told reporters following Thursday's loss (via Reuben Frank of CSNPhilly.com).

That might be so, but Wright has to be concerned with how disinterested his team looked, because the same thing could happen as a No. 2 or 3.

'Nova's next opponent is going to likely have that same sort of "nothing to lose" mentality that Seton Hall played with. That kind of clash of perspectives is the key ingredient to a March Madness upset.