HARTFORD, Conn. — Villanova comes into the NCAA tournament this year from an unfamiliar angle.

The defending national champions bring the cache that comes with winning two NCAA titles in the last three seasons, along with a couple of senior leaders who have a wealth of postseason experience and, of course, their famously sharp-dressed coach.

Beyond that, much has changed. Villanova is a sixth seed in the West Region, facing 11th-seeded Saint Mary’s on Thursday night in Hartford. Not too far away from their Philadelphia home, the Wildcats will likely be well-supported in Connecticut. But for the first time since the 2013 tournament, Villanova is not a No. 1 or 2 seed.

“It’s different,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said Wednesday. “I don’t think we’d be honest if we didn’t admit to that, you know? But it’s not bad, you know?”

Villanova had four players drafted off of last year’s team, which buzz-sawed through the field to win the school’s third title overall and second under Wright. The rebuild this season was made more difficult because a couple of last year’s departures were unexpected. Donte DiVincenzo entered the draft after he rocketed to stardom in the tournament. Omari Spellman, a big man with range, also jumped into the draft earlier than most expected.

That left fifth-year senior guard Phil Booth and senior forward Eric Paschall to lead the way on a team that otherwise had very little experience.

There were plenty of growing pains: A loss at Penn in December, followed by another loss at Kansas. In February, Villanova had a string of three straight Big East losses and four in five games. The Wildcats had not lost more than four conference games in a season since 2012-13.

“So the journey for this team has been different this whole year,” said Booth, who leads the team at 18.6 points per game and 3.8 assists.

SYRACUSE: Senior Frank Howard is out “for an indefinite period of time” for violating school policy.

The school announced Howard’s suspension on Wednesday, the eve of the Orange’s NCAA Tournament game against Baylor.

The 6-foot-5 Howard lit up social media during the ACC tournament against Duke last week when he appeared to stick his foot out as Blue Devils star Zion Williamson ran by.

Howard denied trying to trip Williamson and the school did not say if the suspension was related to the alleged attempt.

Howard had an up-and-down season, but scored 28 points against Duke and played well in the ACC tournament with Tyus Battle out due to an injury. He averages 8.9 points and 2.0 assists.

KENTUCKY: Coach John Calipari expects scoring and rebounding leader PJ Washington to play in Thursday’s tournament game, even after seeing a foot specialist.

Washington spent several days in a walking boot “as a precaution” before the second-seeded Wildcats open Midwest Region play against 15th-seeded Abilene Christian.

Washington sprained a foot in the Southeastern Conference tournament against Tennessee. Calipari said X-rays and MRI results were negative, but team doctors wanted him to see a specialist.


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