NCAA Tournament Report Card: Villanova, in or out?

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The Wildcats raised eyebrows with wins over Louisville and Syracuse, but was it enough?

<p> Villanova raised eyebrows with wins over Louisville and Syracuse, but were those wins enough for an NCAA Tournament bid?</p>

Throughout the final months of the college basketball season, Athlon Sports will take a quick snapshot of key movers in the potential NCAA field. Who's moving up? Who's moving down? Who's on the bubble and who's off? What can we expect in the coming days from these teams?

Our next installment assesses Villanova, a perennial NCAA Tournament team under Jay Wright before a down season in 2011-12. The Wildcats have one of the most difficult resumes among bubble teams. They started the season with lopsided losses to teams that may struggle to reach the NCAA Tournament if they make it at all.

Yet Villanova has started to pull its season together with two wins over top-five wins a week ago, followed by two more losses.

Here’s how Villanova looks with six weeks to Selection Sunday.

By the numbers
Record: 13-9, 4-5 Big East
RPI: 71
Strength of schedule: 40
Best wins: No. 10 Louisville, No. 11 Syracuse
Worst losses: No. 232 Columbia, No. 107 Providence (twice)
Source: ESPN.com

Reasons for optimism

In the numbers game: Villanova put itself into the NCAA Tournament conversation by defeating Louisville 73-64 on Jan. 22 and Syracuse 75-71 on Jan. 26. Both were ranked in the top five of the Associated Press poll at the time, but the Cardinals and Orange have slipped to merely the top 15 in the RPI in the first week in February.

In the real game: JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard attack the basket, leading a team that’s one of the best in the country in getting to the free throw line. When forward Mouphtaou Yarou and guard Ryan Arcidiacoco are both playing well, Villanova can be tough to beat. However, both can be streaky at times, putting more on the shoulders of Pinkston and Hilliard.

Related: Key stats from the first weekend in February

Reasons for concern

In the numbers game: Two of Villanova’s early losses don’t look nearly as bad as they did back in November: La Salle and Alabama defeated Villanova early, but now the Explorers are in NCAA contention while Alabama is flirting with the top 60 of the RPI. The 75-57 loss to Columbia, though, is as bad as it was back on Nov. 20. Villanova’s main concern is two losses to Providence, including 55-52 at home Sunday. Villanova’s RPI of 71 and middling conference record will be tough to overcome.

In the real game:
Villanova was torched from three-point range in its two losses following the wins over Louisville and Syracuse. Notre Dame shot 9 of 21 from beyond the arc, while Providence went 10 of 15. A three from Bryce Cotton ended a 9-0 run for Villanova and won the game for the Friars. Meanwhile, Villanova is 5 of 26 from long range during that span.

Looking ahead
Villanova does not have much wiggle room after Sunday’s loss to Providence, meaning the Wildcats can’t afford a lapse this week against DePaul and Rutgers. For the Wildcats to recover its NCAA Tournament momentum, they may need to sweep two teams on the road in two weeks when they visit Cincinnati on Feb. 12 and Connecticut on Feb. 16. Villanova’s best road win is over USF on Jan. 9.

The verdict: NIT
Villanova’s road loss to Notre Dame was excusable. The Wildcats may have been playing above their heads in the wins over Louisville and Syracuse, and Notre Dame is tough to defeat in South Bend. Being swept by Providence is a different matter. Villanova is an improved team, but the Wildcats’ margin of error is too slim to afford home losses like Sunday’s to the Friars.

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