Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
VILLANOVA — Maddy Siegrist sat at center court Sunday evening at Finneran Pavilion with her Villanova teammates staring at the video board located in one of the corners playing ESPN’s Selection Sunday reveal.
There were nerves, but they were much different from the ones last season as the Wildcats entered the night unsure if they’d hear their names called.
“Last year, it was just being nervous whether we’re going to get in or not,” Siegrist said. “I got nervous a little bit today just because you want to see where you end up but definitely a lot calmer going into today.”
The Villanova women, the only one of the city’s 12 Division I hoops squads in the NCAA Tournament field, earned a No. 4 seed and will host No. 13 seed Cleveland State (30-4) on Saturday at Finneran Pavilion as the top 16 seeds in the tournament host the first two rounds. The winner will play No. 5 Washington State or No. 12 Florida Gulf Coast in the second round.
Villanova's Maddy Siegrist, left, and coach Denise Dillon and the Wildcats will host Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday. (Photo: CoBL File)
Villanova upset sixth-seeded BYU in the first round last season as an 11 seed before falling to third-seeded Michigan in the second round.
The Wildcat’s goal after last season’s short NCAA trip was to position themselves for a deeper run in 2023, which they did earning the second highest seed in program history.
“Last year, we were sitting in here waiting just to see our name called,” Villanova coach Densie Dillon said. “This year we were aware we were in just not knowing where we were going to be seeded. It’s that experience now turns into the expectation. This group last year we were disappointed in how we finished out there in Michigan and they came in this summer as a whole just ready to get after it and carried it through the entire season.”
The No. 4 seed is the second highest in program history. Villanova earned a No. 2 seed in 2003, which ended with a trip to the Elite Eight.
The Wildcats have only hosted an NCAA Tournament two other times in 1986 and 1987, but thought they would have a chance at a few more home games when they celebrated Senior Night with a win over Providence in the second-to-last game of the regular season on Feb. 24.
“It’s such a difference playing in front of your home fans and having those people behind you, so I’m excited,” said senior Brooke Mullin, a Neshaminy product.
Dillon said she didn’t have much info on Cleveland State, though she noted that wouldn’t last long. Siegrist, who typically comes to film study prepared with several notes of her own, said she would probably watch the Vikings’ either Sunday night or early Monday.
The Horizon league tournament champions, who are making their third NCAA appearance and first since 2010, are 38th in the country in scoring (74.5 ppg). They also have the 3rtd best defense (57.4 ppg) and hold opponents to 35.3 percent from the field, which ranks 10th in the country. A key to their game is getting to the line as only LSU makes more than their 17 free throws per game.
Junior guard 5-10 Destiny Leo (17.7 ppg) leads the way along with senior forwards Brittni Moore (12. Ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Amele Ngwafang (9.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg), who measure at 5-10 and 6-0, respectively.
“We have an idea that they play with pace,” Dillon said. “They played DePaul earlier in the year. They’re an aggressive team, put points on the board, so obviously we’ll do our work as coaches to get scout ready but as we talk to the team about just preparing and get better everyday and that’s what they’ve done since finishing up last week and here at practice but now we’ll hone in on some of the tendencies of Cleveland State.”
Led by Siegrist, the nation’s leading scorer (28.9 ppg), the Wildcats are a confident bunch looking to win a tournament game in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2003 and 2004. They have just two total tournament wins since (2018 and 2022) and hope to add at least two more to earn a spot in the Sweet 16 in Greenville, S.C.
With no other local squads in the NCAA field (none of the city's men's D1 teams are in the tournament for the first time since 1977), the Wildcats have the chance to capture the city’s attention with a tournament run and two home games to hopefully win the area’s college basketball fans over.
“They don’t have anywhere else to go,” Dillon said. “They should all be here watching.”
Four local squads accept NIT bids
Though they missed out on ‘The Big Dance,’ Villanova’s men and Drexel, Penn and St. Joe’s women’s squads will continue their seasons in the NIT and WNIT respectively.
College basketball’s second most prestigious tournaments offer the Villanova men a chance to build off a late-season turnaround, while Drexel, Penn and St. Joe’s have a chance to add onto successful campaigns.
This is the first time since 2012 the Wildcats (17-16), who played in the Final Four last season, missed the tournament and just the second time in the past 18 tournaments they weren’t in the field. First-year coach Kyle Neptune’s squad, which finished with seven wins in its last 10 games, will travel to Liberty on Tuesday at 9 p.m. for its first-round game.
The WNIT matchups, dates and times will be announced Monday.
The Drexel women finished second in the CAA with a 21-9 overall mark and 13-5 conference record before being upset by seventh-seeded Monthmouth, the eventual champion, in their conference tournament opener. Led by the nation’s second-leading scorer Keishana Washington (27.0 ppg), Drexel will chase its first WNIT title since 2013 after a reaching the third round last season.
Penn hasn’t played in the postseason since reaching the second round of the WNIT in 2019. The Quakers finished below .500 last but bounced back with a 17-11 finish and a fourth-place finish in the Ivy. First team All-Ivy guard Kayla Padilla (17.6 ppg) will hope to continue her terrific Penn career as long as possible.
St. Joe’s reached the 20-win mark for the first time since 2014 with a 20-10 mark. It’s also the program’s first winning season since 2018 — the last time it made the WNIT, falling in the first round. Sophomore forward Talya Brugler (16.7 ppg, 5.0 rpg) leads a young core.
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