Villanova Wildcats Keeping NCAA Tournament Hopes Alive

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Villanova Wildcats are keeping their NCAA Tournament hopes alive after using a big second half performance to knock off the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.

The Wildcats struggled on their home court in the first half, entering the break trailing 31-21 after shooting 30 percent from the field. Jay Wright’s club got their act together in the second half, scoring 50 points to avoid a devastating loss while defeating Rutgers 71-63.

All five starters scored in double figures as Villanova’s talented trio and three leading scorers led the way offensively. After Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard, and JayVaughan Pinkston combined for only 13 points in the first half, the trio stepped up and all finished with 14 points in the contest to avoid what would have been a crippling loss for the school.

The game was a must win for the Wildcats not only because losing to Rutgers is something the team couldn’t afford on their tournament resume, but also because of Villanova’s upcoming schedule.

The Wildcats have four games remaining on the year and three are against top 25 ranked opponents.

On Feb. 23, the Marquette Golden Eagles come to town and just like Villanova are trying to earn a March Madness bid, the Golden Eagles are trying to improve on their seeding come tournament time. At this point, Marquette is fairly safe bet to have their ticket punched for the big dance and a loss at Villanova would have a significant impact on their seeding.

On Feb. 28 the Wildcats will travel to face the Seton Hall Pirates in what is an absolute must win for Villanova. The Pirates are 8-5 at home this season despite being second last in the conference, meaning it’s far from a guaranteed victory for the Wildcats.

The road trip continues for Villanova on Mar. 3 with a visit to the Pittsburgh Panthers in one of the hardest buildings for conference visitors to emerge victorious–not to mention, Pittsburgh defeated the Wildcats 58-43 on Jan. 16.

The fun only continues from there when Villanova returns home on Mar. 6 to close out their season hosting the Georgetown Hoyas. Despite having the luxury of finishing the year at home, hosting the Hoyas is the furthest thing from an advantage for any team.

The four game schedule is crucial for the Wildcats because they’ll need, at the very least, to go 2-2 down the stretch drive. A losing record that features a pair of bad losses could be all that is needed to leave off Villanova from hearing their name called on Selection Sunday.

The Wildcats are certainly capable of pulling off upsets, as they already own an impressive pair of games on their resume with wins over the Syracuse Orange and Louisville Cardinals. Those two victories alone prove that anything is possible with this year’s Villanova team.

However, if this team is going to sneak into the tournament, it is likely they’ll need to re-capture the magic they found when they defeated the top two teams in the conference.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the NBA and NHL for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts

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