Dana O’Neil, who used to cover Villanova for the Daily News, wrote an outstanding (but I’m biased) in-depth piece on Jay Wright and the 11-0 Wildcats today:
Villanova is, in fact, back — back in the top 25 and back to national relevance after a four-year run of quick NCAA exits and one sub-.500 season. The Wildcats are a surprising 11-0, with wins over Kansas and Iowa. And they stand No. 8 in the country and tops in the retro new Big East.
The national media is starting to poke around and, more telling, the Philadelphia newspapers and radio shows are sacrificing a page or some air time from round-the-clock Eagles coverage to make room for the Wildcats. On the surface, everything looks pretty much the same as it did a few years back, when Villanova lived in the top 25 and was a solid bet for a deep NCAA run.
The results, though, are the only similarity.
Dig a little, study the roster, talk to the players and, most of all, talk to Wright and you will discover a man and a program that has changed significantly. The team on the court is more than just a simple return to the program’s roots; it’s the result of a philosophical shift that came via the hard-earned route of sudden success turned into sudden failure.
Here’s the thing that’s not talked about in the article: Wright’s best teams at Nova haven’t used his small-guard-heavy lineup. His best teams have had size. I’d argue the 2005 team – which lost to North Carolina in the Sweet 16 thanks partly to a horrible traveling call on Allan Ray – was better than the team that was ranked in the Top 5 and lost to Florida in the Elite Eight the following year. The 2005 team had a healthy Curtis Sumpter for most the season– he made the Wildcats both more versatile on offense and stronger on defense. The four-guard lineup was successful for much of the following season, but it caught up with them at the end against much bigger and more athletic Florida.
In 2009, when they went to the Final Four (I get erect writing that sentence), they had Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark – long and lanky defenders – as well as Corey Stokes. Collectively, they were able to shut down other teams, Duke and UCLA specifically.
This year? Their top five leading scorers are all listed at 6’3 or above, with only one below 6’5 (Arcidiacono). That means they can shoot over people and score in the paint, and have big players on the floor playing tremendous defense.
Wright gets a lot of credit for his unique guard play, but it’s when he has size on defense that he’s at his best.