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Sports

Ivey: Villanova reverts to its routine of disappointment

| Thursday, March 23, 2017

When Kris Jenkins sank a three-pointer at the buzzer to win the national championship game for Villanova last season, it didn’t seem real.

The ending itself was spectacular. But who it was happening to made it even more head scratching.

Villanova, the same team who made losing in the round of 32 as a No. 1 or 2 seed a routine thing, not only made it past the round of 32 in 2016, but won the national championship on a buzzer-beater.

It’s over. The run of disappointment for Villanova had finally ended. The Wildcats beat high-powered teams Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina in hard-fought games during the tournament on their way to the championship.

It was the opposite of what people were expecting. They had flipped the old narrative of postseason disappointments on its head. This was the beginning of the new Villanova.

Then Saturday happened.

The Wildcats had entered this season’s NCAA Tournament as the Big East regular season and tournament champions and the overall No. 1 seed in the field of 68 teams. They looked like they were going to have a clear path to the Elite Eight and a potential matchup with Duke to go to the Final Four.

The Wildcats drew Wisconsin in the second round. Wisconsin finished the Big Ten regular season on a downward spiral before reaching the Big Ten tournament championship game. Still, Villanova was favored to defeat the Badgers and continue their run towards defending their title.

But Villanova fell behind early and trailed most of the game. Despite making a late comeback and holding on to their lead for a little while, the Wildcats couldn’t finish off the Badgers and lost a 65-62 heartbreaker.

It was an all-too-familiar feeling for Villanova and its fans (and anyone who picked Villanova to go far in their March Madness brackets).

Since making it to the Final Four in 2009, Villanova has failed to advance beyond the round of 32 in seven of the last eight years. Almost every year has been marked by great regular season success followed by postseason disappointment.

The Wildcats earned a No. 2 seed in the 2010 tournament, only to lose to Saint Mary’s in the round of 32. After losing to George Mason in the first round of the 2011 tournament, the Wildcats failed to qualify for the 2012 tournament. After losing to South Carolina in the first round in 2013, the Wildcats won the Big East regular season tournament in 2014 and earned a No. 2 seed in the tournament. They fell in the round of 32 to eventual national champion Connecticut.

2015 looked like it was finally going to be the year. Villanova won the Big East regular season and tournament championship and earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament. But, in all too familiar fashion, the Wildcats lost to North Carolina State in the round of 32 in the game that gave us the crying piccolo girl.

The image became a symbol of Villanova’s continued postseason futility, raising their fans’ hope for glory before smashing them with an early postseason exit, ranking them up there with the Washington Capitals or the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Then Villanova won it all in 2016 and shredded the postseason choker label forever. Or so we thought.

Last year now looks like a one-year exception rather than the beginning of something new.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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