CLEVELAND — Long runs in the NCAA Tournament have become commonplace for Villanova. So back-to-back flameouts on the first weekend have heightened curiosity about the state of Jay Wright's program.
The endings were similarly awful. Last year, the No. 2-seeded Wildcats were upset in the second round by No. 10 St. Mary's, punctuating a 5-7 finish after a 20-1 start. Friday's come-from-ahead loss to George Mason made Villanova the first NCAA Tournament team to finish a season with six consecutive losses since the field was expanded to 64 in 1985.
The Wildcats were ranked sixth in the preseason poll and rocketed to a 16-1 start but went 5-11 after that. A combination of injuries and a brutal February schedule hurt their chances of winning, and the subsequent losing affected the team's confidence, which translated into shoddy execution at crunch time.
But Wright, who completed his 10th season there with Friday's 61-57 loss, said it's all part of college basketball, and he does not see "a crisis in our program."
"I don't look at the season as disastrous," he said. "I look at it as some really tough breaks.
"I'm evaluating how we handle it — how the staff handles it, how the seniors handle it, what the young guys learn from it. As long as we come out and we play hard and we stick together and we never give up on a game and we never give up on a season, I feel like we're going to have a quality of players and a quality of people to contend for the Big East championship each year.
"And I still see that, so I'm not over-evaluating. I know we have JayVaughn (Pinkston) coming back next year. I know we have good recruits coming in. I know this sophomore class is going to get better. So it's a fair question, and I'm not done evaluating. But I won't be evaluating any more than I usually do."
PITCHING STABILITY: The Big East has seen its share of upheaval in recent years. Now, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey would like to see something else: stability.
TCU is joining in 2012, and he hopes that's it for now.
"We haven't done our fans any favors because we keep changing the Big East," Brey said.
Brey said that was one issue he had to overcome after he left Delaware for the Fighting Irish in 2000. Even so, he said, if Notre Dame was in the Big Ten, "I don't know it would be a great fit for me, but it was great in the Big East."
TUNING IN: The NCAA Tournament's new television format is drawing more viewers.
The second-round games Friday across four networks averaged 7.6 million viewers. That's up 19 percent from last year, when games were only on CBS.
The NCAA's 14-year, $10.8 billion deal with CBS and Turner means each game is televised nationally in its entirety on CBS, TNT, TBS or truTV. In the past, broadcasts on CBS were regionalized, and the network would switch among games.
STAY AWAY: Women's basketball fans are not being allowed to watch practices at this year's NCAA Tournament. That is a departure from the men's tournament, where fans are encouraged to come out to open practices the day before each session.
Sue Donohoe, the NCAA's vice president of Division I women's basketball, said the decision to close practice was made in part because open practices were not very well attended and were a hassle for coaches.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The perfect scenario is to take over a new job where they've got great players nobody knows are any good, they haven't won and the previous coach was disliked. So, I'm smart enough to take over for Roy Williams, who everybody knew they had great players, he won 80-something percent of his games and everybody adored. So, that was not smart." — Bill Self, Kansas coach