All season long, as the wins mounted and the numbers got even gaudier, Jay Wright maintained that this year was no different for Villanova. The plan was the same, the formula was the same. The Wildcats head coach argued this team was different. It had learned from the losses, the upsets, the disappointments of the past. That was why this year's Villanova team would go where the teams of the last few years had been unable to.
Yet, now Villanova's season is done.
Before the NCAA tournament's second weekend.
This year, it was North Carolina State, toppling the East Region's No. 1 seed by a final score of 71-68. Save for a last-ditch comeback attempt in the game's final two minutes by the Wildcats, this was a game that N.C. State controlled from the start. Sound familiar? That's because, with Villanova, it's become a nightmare on repeat.
Last year, as a No. 2 seed, it was Connecticut that ended Villanova's season prematurely.
Since making a surprising run to the Final Four as a No. 3 seed in 2009, Villanova has been a team crippled by the pressure of March. A 3-5 record, no Sweet 16 appearances despite entering the tournament three times as either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed. Suddenly the Wildcats are faced with another offseason where critics will question the formula and internally, the program will search for answers on how to reverse a NCAA tournament hex.
It is curious how once again Villanova could fall to a lower seed before the second weekend, but one look at the box score tells the tale quite clearly. This was only the third loss of the season for the Wildcats, but as was the case Saturday night, in all three they shot under 37 percent from three-point range.
One of the best long-range shooting teams in the country, the Wildcats were a paltry 9 for 28 from deep (It's worth noting six tournament teams ranked in the top 10 in three-point shots made during the season and none will play in the Sweet 16).
Meanwhile, N.C. State, rejuvenated by its comeback win in the final seconds on Thursday night against LSU, pounded Villanova on the boards, 45-32. Four Wolfpack players scored in double figures, led by Trevor Lacey's 17 points. Forwards Abdul-Malik Abu (13 points and 11 rebounds) and Lennard Freeman (11 points and 12 rebounds) pitched in double-doubles. With those big bodies taking advantage of Villanova's small stature, it was easy for N.C. State to dictate the pace.
Villanova's Darrun Hilliard II led all scorers with 27 points, but it was a lone-wolf effort, as only one other player — JayVaughn Pinkston, who scored 13 points — scored in double-figures. Pinkston didn't reach the mark until late in the game.
The look on the Wildcats' bench was one of shock, of another postseason ended before it even began.