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2017 NCAA tournament preview: Villanova

Villanova Wildcats: 31-3, 15-3 in the Big East Conference

Head coach: Jay Wright (16th season)

Players to watch: Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 50.7 FG%); Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, 54.1 FG%); Mikal Bridges (9.9 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 55.9 FG%)

Season recap: After collecting a national championship in Houston last season, Villanova began its quest to become the first repeat champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007 with a perfect 14-0 start to its season. The Wildcats finally lost Jan. 4 at Butler—the only team that would give Villanova fits during the season as the Bulldogs knocked off the reigning champs again last month on the Wildcats' home floor.

Other than its two losses to Butler, Villanova dropped just one other contest—a game at Marquette in late January—and followed it up with a big home victory later that week against Virginia. Despite playing a weaker Big East slate than in years past, the Wildcats have dominated conference opposition—they won their final six regular-season matchups by double figures, and Hart is a candidate for National Player of the Year.

Villanova earned the top seed in the East, where it will get to play in front a friendly New York crowd just two and a half hours from its campus if it advances to the second weekend. That means all of the pieces are back in place for the Wildcats to ride another strong season deep into March if they can get some outside shots to fall.

How they make a run: Villanova does not change much from the recipe that carried it to a national title last season. Hart and Brunson carry the offense and Wildcat role players step up in crunch time when given open looks to send the team back to the Final Four. 

How they falter: Hart and Brunson are asked to do much and get bottled up by a physical defensive unit, and Villanova's offense falters in an early-round upset. 

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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