In many instances, especially those involving teams with the talent level of the Wildcats, that's exactly what happens. Make no mistake about it – despite that loss to the Hoyas, this Villanova team is excellent, and has as good a chance as anyone of reaching the Final Four. It's more than meets the eye – despite a guard-dependent lineup, it is 12th in the country in rebounding margin at +7.6 per game. (That's just a touch behind ninth-place West Virginia's +7.8). It adapts well to foes' styles and strategies. Everything points to a quick Nova bounceback.
Despite all of those signs, however, it's not a foregone conclusion that the Wildcats will come out and play their best game against the Mountaineers. Teams sometimes go through two- or three-game stretches where they simply don't play up to their ability (see WVU's Purdue – Notre Dame stretch in early January). Even the best teams endure those sorts of games, and often it's just a matter of timing that determines whether a loss results or not. Play a team at the bottom of the league, and you can often get away with a sub-par performance (WVU – St. John's, for example). But face a team that's NCAA tournament level, and a mark in the loss column is often the result.
This subject comes up because many previews and outlooks for this game note the loss to Georgetown, and draw the conclusion that the Wildcats will come out smoking against the Mountaineers. While that may happen, it's not necessarily a foregone conclusion. And if they do, it might not be the Georgetown loss to blame (or credit) for it. So many things go into game results (match-ups, fouls, coaching decisions, fatigue, etc., etc.), that looking back to the results of the last game is probably much further down the list than many observers think. Just like the emotion that grips an underdog when taking on a top-ranked team (and which usually only lasts a few minutes), the extra motivation a team coming off a poor performance supposedly has might be a bit overrated.
You'll never prove it from the comments of players on either side, of course. They, like many of us, are conditioned to accept this as a truth. It's kind of like the adage that says it's tough to beat a team three times in one season. If you're good enough, you can do it.
All this reminds of a not-so-recent time when a highly-ranked team came into the Coliseum for a big game coming off a loss. Undefeated and number-one ranked UNLV came to town on Feb. 27, 1983, in a similar situation as that which looms tonight. The Runnin' Rebels had just lost their first game of the season, dropping an 86-78 decision to Cal Stat Fullerton, and everyone assumed that spelled the end of an upset win for the Mountaineers. However, West Virginia played one of its best games of the year, while UNLV was inconsistent and overwhelmed by the atmosphere in the Coliseum. WVU won 87-78 in a game that it controlled throughout.
That's not to say the same thing happens in this contest. Villanova is a battle-tested team that isn't likely to be much-influenced by a hostile road crowd, or by bad thoughts of its last outing. But every game offers its own set of unique circumstances, and there's no telling which way those end up combining and influencing the outcome.