Young, No. 13 Irvine gear up for No. 4 Louisville
Former Phoenix High standout Alex Young and UC Irvine are ready to dance.
The thirteenth-seeded Anteaters (21-12) beat Hawaii 67-58 for the Big West Tournament title and their first NCAA Tournament berth in 38 years as a Division I program. They'd come up one victory short of reaching the tournament four times.
For their efforts they’ll get Louisville, a No. 4 seed in the East Regional, on Friday night in Seattle.
The Cardinals (24-8) are in the NCAA Tournament for the ninth straight year. They lost to Kentucky 74-69 in a regional semifinal last year. No. 14 Louisville fell to North Carolina 70-60 in the ACC Tournament last week, missing 15 of its last 17 shots.
Young, a junior guard, has averaged 9.5 points, 3.6 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game during season. Teammate Will Davis II had three double-doubles during the conference tournament.
In Villanova, Pa., Villanova coach Jay Wright had a history lesson for the hundreds of fans that packed the student union for the Wildcats' coronation as a No. 1 seed.
"Remember, 1939. First Final Four ever, Villanova was in it," Wright said. "That tradition stays strong."
Wright had shiny reminders on the table in front of him at just how that tradition has thrived. Big East regular season champions trophy. Big East Tournament champions trophy. Awards, posters and even watches for all the coach and player of the year honors earned so far.
The Wildcats can only hope — and believe they are poised — to add to the trophy case.
Villanova waited 20 years to win another Big East Tournament title — and needed less than 24 more to find out it was No. 1 again, this time earning the top seed in the NCAA tournament's East Region.
The Wildcats (32-2) have won 15 games in a row heading into their East Regional opener against Lafayette (20-12) on Thursday in Pittsburgh. Villanova is a No. 1 seed for the second time in program history.
It's the 30th anniversary of the Wildcats' stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game.
"We are not done," Wright said to a roaring ovation.
While the Wildcats want to relive the glory days, they'd like to forget about more recent history. They were a No. 2 seed in the East last season but couldn't escape the first weekend, losing to eventual national champion UConn.
Virginia, the No. 1 seed in the East last season, is No. 2 this year and opens against No. 15 Belmont. Virginia won the ACC regular season crown for the second straight year and had the inside track for a top seed in the tournament until it lost to North Carolina in the semifinal.
"You know, ranking, seeding, all those things, that's more for fans," coach Tony Bennett said. "But we've been around this long enough that we don't worry about that stuff at all."
The Cavaliers won seven straight games after losing then-scoring leader Justin Anderson to a broken pinkie on his (left) shooting hand in a victory against Louisville on Feb. 7, then lost to the Cardinals in their regular season finale.
Anderson returned for the ACC Tournament a week after he had an appendectomy, but he was ineffective the Cavs' semifinal loss to North Carolina.
Darion Atkins, the lone senior, and junior guard Malcolm Brogdon were each named the ACC's defensive player of the year, Atkins by the media and Brogdon sharing the coaches award.
The rest of the East includes tournament regulars Oklahoma, Louisville and Michigan State. Northern Iowa, which stunned Kansas in 2010 to reach the Sweet 16, is back as the No. 5 seed after it won the Missouri Valley Conference championship.
The East Region final is March 29 at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York with the winner advancing to the Final Four.
The Wildcats have not played in the Final Four since 2009.
"We could definitely win it. We can beat anybody in the country," Wright said.
Up first, a date with the Patriot League Tournament champion Leopards (20-12). Lafayette head coach Fran O'Hanlon was a former standout guard at Villanova, leading the Wildcats to two wins in the 1970 NCAA tournament as a senior.
With a win, the Wildcats would face the winner of eighth-seeded NC State, another 1980s national champion shocker, against No. 9 LSU.
Other matchups in the region include: Northern Iowa vs. No. 12 Wyoming; No. 6 Providence vs. the winner of Boise State-Dayton; No. 3 Oklahoma and Big 12 player of the year Buddy Hield take on No. 14 Albany; and No. 7 Michigan St. vs. No. 10 Georgia.
Should both teams win, Michigan State could play Virginia in a rematch of last year's Sweet 16. The Spartans won that one and lost in the Elite Eight to UConn.
With the No. 2 overall seed in the tournament, the road to Indianapolis surely goes through Villanova.