Obama makes vote for Villanova to reach national title game
PITTSBURGH (AP) Villanova latest milestone win is a straw poll straight out of the White House.
Coach Jay Wright has voted for President Barack Obama. Obama decided to return the favor. The Villanova Wildcats, a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament are a No. 2 in the White House following this week's bracket breakdown.
More interested in bracket lines than party lines, Obama picked Kentucky to beat Villanova in the national championship game during an interview broadcast Wednesday on ESPN.
''I would take that,'' Wright said. ''I wasn't looking at that as a negative. I was thinking he was a pretty smart guy.''
The Wildcats are a popular pick to at least make the Final Four for the first time since 2009. The Wildcats won the Big East regular season and tournament titles in the same season for the first time in program history. They have a No. 1 seed for the second time in history. And they are a riding a 15-game winning streak and have gone two months without a loss.
That's the kind of hot streak any politician would take.
The college basketball world is aware of Villanova's accomplishments. Wright was just flattered Obama noticed.
''I know he's a Georgetown fan, so he's seen us a couple times, I'm sure,'' Wright said.
Obama must have been busy watching other programming on Jan. 19 - Villanova's last loss, a 78-58 thrashing at Georgetown.
But most everything else has gone Villanova's way this season. Wright, hired in 2001, hasn't backed down from the heavy expectations placed on the best team he's put together.
''I just think we're the kind of team that we really, honestly, we can beat anybody,'' Wright said. ''We really could.''
The Wildcats (32-2) start their hopeful run to the national championship game on Thursday against Patriot League Tournament champion Lafayette (20-12). No No. 16 seed has ever defeated a 1.
The Wildcats won their first Big East Tournament championship in 20 years and would like to mark another milestone with a championship - 30 years since they improbably beat Georgetown to win the 1985 national championship.
Wright was in first year as a college coach, working as an assistant at Rochester. He was also the assistant intramural director and had to return to campus for Monday intramurals. He watched the game with Rochester's women's soccer coach.
Wright's wife, who he had just started dating, graduated from Villanova in 1983 and attended the game.
What, she couldn't find one more ticket?
''Had I known,'' his wife, Patty, laughed outside Villanova's locker room.
The 1985 Wildcats are never too far away and many former players are found in the stands rooting for their home team.
''Them coming back and just giving us advice and telling us how proud they are of us is very humbling for us,'' forward Daniel Ochefu said. ''We played for them because they set a standard. We're trying to keep that standard, set the bar a little higher.''
Winning Big East titles is a nice start. Proving the president wrong and winning it all would be even better.
''If we could ever do that and get to the finals against Kentucky, let's see what happens,'' Wright said.
Here's what else to look for in this East Regional matchup at Pittsburgh's Consol Center.
FAMILAR FACE: Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon was once one of Villanova's biggest stars. He averaged 13.1 points and was co-captain for the 1969-70 team that won two NCAA Tournament games. O'Hanlon still holds the Villanova record for assists in a game, 16 vs. Toledo on Feb. 24, 1970. His Wildcats teams went 62-21 over his three seasons under coach Jack Kraft.
He was inducted into the Villanova Hall of Fame in 1972.
O'Hanlon is a three-time Patriot League coach of the year and has led the Leopards to three NCAA Tournaments.
''Me being a Philly guy and a Villanova guy and not being so far from Philadelphia as a team, I think there's been a lot of positives out of this,'' O'Hanlon said. ''Probably the only negative is that we're going to have to play them tomorrow.''
Las Vegas agrees - Villanova is a 23-point favorite.
SEEDING: Wright said a Patriot League team should never be seeded 16th.
''I think they're just too good,'' Wright said. ''They're too well coached. They've had experience of knocking off big-time teams. Part of what I didn't want was to play Franny and Lafayette, and part of what I didn't want was to play a Patriot League team because I know how good they are.''
Guard Seth Hinrichs said the Leopards got the seed they deserved.
''We went 9-9 in conference, so that doesn't bode well for seeding,'' he said. ''Our RPI was probably a little bit lower than a lot of the other teams that were in the tournament that got an automatic bid from the conference tournament. I think the 16 seed was justified.''