Y’all can say I’m kissing Kyle’s ass, but I’m not.
If you’re a neutral and you can’t appreciate what Villanova basketball has done over the past five years, then you’re just a hater. And if you’re a Temple or Saint Joe’s or La Salle fan, I understand. No one is making you say “rah rah Villanova!” or forcing you to become a Wildcat fan, but I think most Big 5 basketball folks are educated enough to appreciate and applaud elite hoops when they see it.
That’s the premise of this story, really taking a step back and trying to put Villanova’s recent accomplishments into perspective.
For starters, look at what they’ve done since conference realignment:
- 2014: 29-5 (Big East regular season champions)
- 2015: 33-3 (Big East tournament champions, Big East regular season champions)
- 2016: 35-5 (national championship, Big East regular season champions)
- 2017: 32-4 (Big East tournament champions, Big East regular season champions)
- 2018: 35-4 (national championship, Big East tournament champions)
That’s 164 wins, 21 losses, two national titles, four regular season Big East titles, and three conference tournament titles. Do a bit of math and we’re looking at an 89% win rate with nine trophies.
The only real blemish on that run is a couple of early-round tournament exits, the losses to Wisconsin and NC State. That’s about it.
No, this isn’t the Big East of UConn and Syracuse and Pittsburgh and Louisville, but it’s a damn good conference that added the likes of Xavier, Creighton, and Butler to offset the loss of several traditional powers. This year the Big East went 101-23 out of conference, going 20-17 vs. the power five and finishing third overall in RPI.
As a whole, the numbers check out. For Nova specifically, the resume obviously holds. In the past five seasons, I’d list these as their quality non-conference victories:
- 2018: Michigan, Kansas, Texas Tech, West Virginia, Alabama, Tennessee, Gonzaga
- 2017: Purdue, Notre Dame, Virginia
- 2016: Stanford, Georgia Tech, Iowa, Miami, Kansas, Oklahoma, North Carolina
- 2015: Michigan, Illinois, Syracuse
- 2014: USC, Kansas, Iowa
Throw in a perfect record against the Big Five, which does very little for Villanova’s strength of schedule and RPI numbers, and they’ve really excelled against all competition.
Plus, it’s not like Nova wasn’t competitive in the old Big East. 30-8 with a Final Four appearance in 2009. 28-5 in 2006. Jay Wright won 20 games in eight of the nine seasons preceding the conference re-work.
Beyond everything they’ve accomplished in a macro sense, think about some of the finer-tuned things, like this:
Villanova is the only Big East team in the last 20 seasons to shoot 50% from the field & 40% from three for a season.
2nd National Champion to shoot 50% from the field & 40% from three for a season over that same span (2007 Florida).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 3, 2018
Here’s some more from ESPN:
- Donte DiVincenzo is the only player since Glen Rice in 1989 with 30 points and 5 made 3’s in a national title game
- Jay Wright joins Mike Krzyzewski (5) and Roy Williams (3) as the only active coaches with multiple national titles
- Villanova made a record 28 3-pointers in the Final Four (semifinals & title game)
- Villanova joins Florida, Kentucky and Duke as only teams in expansion era (since 1985) to win 2 titles in 3-year span.
- Jalen Brunson is the first guard since David Thompson (NC State – 1974) to win AP Player of the Year & the national title in the same season.
- Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth are only players in Big East history to win multiple national titles.
- 36 wins this season is a school record
- they won every game in March by double digits
- led Division 1 basketball in scoring
- Brunson was the only McDonald’s All-American on the roster (Omari Spellman the only other five-star recruit)
To that last bullet point above, I love this tweet:
Of the 7 guys who scored for Villanova in the national title game:
2 five-star recruits (Brunson, Spellman)
No other player in the @rivals Top 75
Three-star recruits scored 41 pts (DiVencenzo 31, Paschall 6, Gillespie 4)
— Howie Lindsey (@howielindsey) April 3, 2018
Wright isn’t doing it with one-and-done John Calipari types, he’s bringing guys in, coaching them up, getting them to buy in to the program, and then seeing them graduate, too. Nova has a 100% graduation rate and his players don’t get themselves arrested or act like idiots or do anything else to tarnish the program’s reputation. If you wanna counter that with the DiVincenzo tweets, whatever. The kid tweeted some things he shouldn’t have as a teenager.
The New York Times wrote a bit about last night’s star, explaining Villanova’s changing culture and why it’s attractive to players who could simply go elsewhere:
“It would be easy to characterize him as an overachieving diamond in the rough, another scrappy kid from Villanova’s backyard (he is from Delaware) who thrived in Coach Jay Wright’s system. The story sounds great, but it doesn’t check out. DiVincenzo was a four-star recruit who had offers from Florida, Notre Dame, Syracuse and elsewhere.
The Villanova innovation, rather, is to have a talent like DiVincenzo, as a redshirt sophomore, come off the bench.
“All he wants to do is play,” said DiVincenzo’s mother, Kathy, elated in a straw cowboy hat with a Villanova “V” as she watched him being named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. “He doesn’t care if he starts.”
What makes Villanova the class of college basketball — the first team to win two titles in three seasons since Florida repeated more than a decade ago, the second since Kentucky did it in 1996 and ’98 — is this model of sustainable success, with players who could be the center of attention at other big programs sacrificing to play for the Wildcats.”
It’s all true. Villanova doesn’t have to rebuild every season, they just replace a few graduates and reload. And four-star recruits are choosing to enroll knowing that they might not play as freshmen.
Neil Paine at fivethirtyeight.com wrote a really good post this morning titled, “The Only Opponent Villanova has Left is History.”
There’s a graphic in there that really helps to frame the gravity of it all, showing how Villanova’s title teams have crushed expected victory margins en route to winning it all:
Go back and look at some of the players who featured on those other teams listed. Here, I’ll do it for you:
Antoine Walker, Tony Delk, Ty Lawson, Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon, Grant Hill, Christian Laettner, Jay Williams, Shane Battier, Carlos Boozer, etc.
Not all of them thrived in the NBA, but they led some of the best college teams in history. Now we’re adding Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, and Mikal Bridges to the list. And we’re adding Jay Wright to a separate list that includes Coach K, Roy Williams, Jim Calhoun, and Jim Boeheim.
At The Ringer, Mark Titus really nails this part about the head coach:
“I’ve made this same point a million different times on a million different platforms in the past couple of weeks, but I’m going to keep repeating it until it stops being amazing: Wildcats coach Jay Wright was thought of as one of the sport’s biggest choke artists in 2015. He was known as the handsome guy who wore nice suits and won a ton of regular-season games before inevitably bowing out in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, whether to Saint Mary’s or George Mason or NC State. And yet, in what feels like the snap of a finger, Wright has transformed into a savant now regarded as the best head coach in the game. This is more of an indictment on how easily people get sucked into being prisoners of the moment than it is proof that Wright has made some sort of drastic change. But still: The last few years for Wright and Villanova should serve as a powerful reminder that college basketball fates can change at a moment’s notice.”
A small-ish Catholic school on the outskirts of Philly is on the verge of becoming a dynasty, or might even be one already. You’ve got five-star recruit Jahvon Quinerly and four-stars Cole Swider and Brandon Slater filling in the gaps next year, creating something that looks like this:
Paschall, DiVincenzo, Spellman, Gillespie, Booth, Cosby-Roundtree plus Jahvon Quinerly, Cole Swider, Brandon Slater, Jermaine Samuels? Yeah, Nova is still gonna be pretty damn good next year.
— Josh Verlin (@jmverlin) April 3, 2018
You can dislike Nova, or say they’re in the suburbs, or go down whatever path you’d like, and that’s fine. No one is out here saying you have to be a fan. But there’s simply no disputing that this is an elite, blue blood program that isn’t going anywhere.