VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP)Hail to the champs?
The Villanova Wildcats are a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament but No. 1 in the White House following this week’s bracket breakdown by President Joe Biden.
No pressure, Wildcats.
Biden picked the tony Main Line school – where first lady Jill Biden earned an English degree – to run through the field, beat No. 1 seed South Carolina and win the women’s program’s first national championship.
“As you know, in this household, Villanova always wins,” Biden tweeted.
The Wildcats (28-6) pretty much always win in their own house, as well – a sparkling 11-2 mark at the Pavilion where they’ll open Saturday against No. 13-seeded Cleveland State (30-4). No. 5 seed-Washington State (23-10) and its Shania Twain singalongs play No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast (32-2) in the other game in the region. The winners meet Monday night.
Biden’s faith – and the faith of all Villanova fans – rests largely on the performance of two-time Big East Player of the Year and first-team AP All-American Maddy Siegrist. Siegrist has led the Wildcats to 19 wins in their last 22 games (all three losses were to UConn) and pretty much took up a thick packet of game notes that listed all her season and career accolades, including being the Big East’s all-time leading scorer including both men and women.
Led by third-year coach Denise Dillon, Siegrist and the rest of the Wildcats have proved that the school is more than a men’s basketball power.
Take a walk into the Pavilion and the men’s 2016 and 2018 national championship trophies dazzle in a case and show just how much a basketball program can achieve at Villanova. The women’s program has long been steady under Dillon and her predecessor, Harry Perretta. But this season, the Wildcats are a legitimate championship contender.
“Just to see the amount of attention that our team is getting, it’s just so exciting to be a part of,” Siegrist said. “You know, I think it’s well-deserved. We’ve worked really, really hard. Last year we were able to win a game in the tournament, which really gave us a lot of momentum. Everyone was feeling good, and then coming back in the summer, Coach was, like, if you want to do that again, you know, you saw what it took last year.”
March Madness is usually more March Mildness in the women’s bracket. A No. 1 seed has won the national championship the past 10 tournaments and 14 of 15. The only time that didn’t happen was in 2011 when coach Gary Blair led Texas A&M to the title as a No. 2 seed. So the Wildcats don’t exactly have history one their side, and maybe Biden’s pick didn’t help either – he picked Arizona to win the men’s tournament and the Wildcats were shocked in the first round by Princeton.
YOU’RE STILL THE ONE
Washington State is playing in its third straight tournament and fourth overall but has never won in March Madness.
“When you’re asked a lot of questions about your program and even now having not won a first round game, I do make sure everybody understands we’ve only been to four of these since ’82. So the track record, we haven’t been to very many,” fifth-year coach Kamie Ethridge said. “And clearly, you know, the explanation would be I think things are possible. I would tell you that. Like we were the bottom of the barrel in the Pac 12. It’s a hard place to recruit to. It’s a hard job.”
Ethridge, a star player who won a national championship at Texas in 1986, has improved the win total from nine to 11 to 12 to 19 to 21 this season.
DUNK CITY II?
One of the great memories over the last decade in the NCAA men’s tournament was Florida Gulf Coast’s run in Philadelphia to the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. The high-flying team earned the nickname “Dunk City” and they thrived as March underdogs.
Ten years later, the women’s team is in the Philly-area and, sure enough, a No. 12 seed. While just a few media members attended press conferences Friday for the other three teams, donors, fans and other associates filled into the room when it was time for the Eagles. The school said it sold its entire allotment of about 100 tickets for Saturday’s game.
FGCU coach Karl Smesko said he hasn’t talked much about the possibility of duplicating the 2013 men’s run.
“That was a magical run our men’s program had and it was here,” he said. “I don’t believe in a lot of those things. Now, we go on a magical run maybe I’ll start to believe. This is the thing that makes me a believer.”
MADE IN CLEVELAND
The Vikings are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 and earned the automatic bid after winning the Horizon League Tournament. The Vikings are 0-2 in previous tournament games.
AP March Madness coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-womens-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25