“I know we have to answer to the fact that we did not get to the second weekend again,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We have to own that. But it’s not going to define us within our program. It’s going to define us outside of our program, and we accept that.”

By Derek Samson

Most Villanova talk this week surrounded 1985, the school’s magical national championship season celebrating a 30-year anniversary. Most of those players are in their 50s now, and to this year’s group, highlights from then are so ancient they might as well be in black and white.

Yes, 1985 was a long, long time ago.

Well, you know what? So was 2009. At least it feels that way for Villanova basketball.

That year, Scottie Reynolds sprinted three-quarters of the court and hit a game-winning shot over Pittsburgh in the Elite Eight. That moment marked the last time Villanova left an impression in March that didn’t scream underachievers.

That’s a tough label for a team that won 33 games, but March matters. Little else does. And the Wildcats continued their disturbing trend Saturday night at Consol Energy Center, becoming the first No. 1 seed to bounce from this year’s NCAA tournament with a 71-68 loss to eighth-seeded North Carolina State.

Villanova has not escaped the first weekend since 2009. A long, long time ago.

In two of those losses, as No. 2 seeds in 2014 and 2010, the Wildcats were upset by much higher seeds.

“Everybody is gonna hate on us and say we shouldn’t have been a one seed,” Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono said. “We just have to respond from it whatever is the best way that is. Just come back tomorrow and keep our heads high.”

The official response won’t happen tomorrow. Nor in November. Nor in early March 2016. It will be at next year’s NCAA tournament, where Villanova no longer will get showered with questions about playing for a national championship, as it did this weekend. The talk next time will focus on simply making the Sweet 16 and ending this new reputation of a March flop.

“I know we have to answer to the fact that we did not get to the second weekend again,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We have to own that. But it’s not going to define us within our program. It’s going to define us outside of our program, and we accept that.”

Strange thing is, Villanova didn’t seem to be owning its inexplicable snooze after the game. Postgame interviews sounded eerily similar:

The issue isn’t with us. Credit NC State for being incredible.

“I thought we had a Final Four team, but NC State was better than us tonight,” Villanova forward JayVaughn Pinkston said.

Oh, there were plenty of tears rolling down cheeks and towels draped over faces in the locker room. But when players spoke, it was all about NC State and nothing about how the Wildcats sleepwalked into this game.

They looked tight, intimidated and passive, and they couldn’t throw the ball in the bathtub from the toilet seat. They missed layups and fired up air balls and made silly mental mistakes such as fouling on three-point attempts.

“I didn’t see it as tight,” Wright said of his team’s snoozer of a start. “I looked at it more as overly aggressive early. I thought we took some shots where we could have made extra passes. That’s something that’s been—I think that’s something that’s been an advantage for us this year.

“I think we took the shots that normal teams would take tonight. And they did a great job contesting them, whereas we normally make extra passes. Again, I think you got to give them some credit too.”

The numbers don’t lie, though.

NC State destroyed the Wildcats on the inside (it held a 45-32 advantage on the boards), looking much more physical and far more excited to be playing basketball.

Villanova post players Daniel Ochefu and Pinkston went a combined 0-of-6 from the field in the first half and 3-of-12 in the game. As a team, Villanova shot just 28.6 percent from the field in the opening half and 31 percent for the game.

“It wasn’t really struggles; we just weren’t hitting shots, and we weren’t getting stops,” Pinkston said.

None of this criticism falls on Villanova guard Darrun Hilliard II, who was sensational with 27 points and critical buckets to keep the Wildcats in it.

But everywhere else, Villanova was a mess.

No matter how much praise NC State deserves, this should not have happened. This year was supposed to be different. Villanova was perhaps the country’s most balanced team outside of Lexington. No real superstar but a matchup nightmare across the board.

It happened, though. Again.

As the Villanova players trudged off the court and into the tunnel, one of Villanova’s local media members muttered to the others: We’ve seen this before.

“We failed here in this NCAA tournament,” Wright said. “And we just got to accept it, and we’ve got to own it and live with it. But it won’t define us.”

Actually, yes, the “March fraud” label does define the current Villanova program.

Because 2009 was a long, long time ago.

Derek Samson has been an editor and writer in the sports media industry for nearly 20 years. He has worked at Yahoo Sports, USA Today and Sporting News, among other outlets.

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