By Harry Allison
Villanova earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will open postseason play tomorrow night against No. 16 seed Radford in the first round of the Eastern region Pittsburgh.
The Wildcats (30-4) will face Radford (23-12) for the first time in school history.
After a grueling schedule in the rugged Big East, the task now is to prepare to face a bit of an unknown team.
“This is a little more difficult,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said of the matchup. “When you play a mid-major like this, and I coached there, they play different when they play against each other than when they play against you. So you have to figure out, how did they play when they played bigger-time teams and how did they play in their league? It’s a challenge, but, hey, it’s a good challenge to have.”
Guard Phil Booth (above) missed seven games late in the season with a broken bone in his right hand but returned to provide some much-needed leadership. Booth led Villanova with 20 points two years ago in the national championship against North Carolina, a game in which Kris Jenkins drained a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a title.
“These guys are my brothers, so we’re very close on and off the court,” Booth told the Inky. “You could see in the way we play and how unselfish we play how much we loved each other. So I just came in trying to pick the energy back up, just trying to make the team feel whole again.”
Radford defeated LIU-Brooklyn 71-61 in the First Four last night in a matchup of No. 16 seeds.
Junior forward Ed Polite Jr. led the way with 13 points and 12 rebounds for his 27th career double-double. Freshman guard Carlik Jones also had an impressive performance with 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Travis Fields Jr. added 13 points for the Highlanders.
Radford set a school record with its 23rd victory. It won 22 games in 1990-91, 2013-14 and 2014-15.
Radford’s bench came up big with a 27-7 advantage against LIU-Brooklyn.
The Highlanders have made two previous trips to the NCAA Tournament — the 1997-98 season and the 2008-09 season. In 1998, Radford lost 99-63 to No. 1 seed Duke 99-63. In 2009, it was crushed 101-58 by No. 1 seed North Carolina.
Radford will have a daunting task against another No. 1 seed in Villanova. A No. 16 seed has never defeated a No. 1 in the NCAA Tournament.