Last night, Villanova continued its domination this postseason and was crowned national champion for the second time in three seasons. When you think of historic college basketball programs, schools like Duke, UCLA, Kentucky, and North Carolina probably come to mind. But after the last few seasons, Villanova is right up there in that blue-blood category in the here and now.
The dominant run this tournament gave ‘Nova its third title in school history, as they became just the eighth school in the history of college basketball (ninth if you want to still count Louisville’s vacated 2013 title) to accomplish the feat. Historically, Villanova is clearly one of the top 5-10 basketball schools in the nation, and they are currently the archetypal program that others are chasing.
Just watch the style of basketball Villanova plays. Versatility is what stands out the most. All five guys on the court can typically shoot, drive, pass, and play solid and willing defense. Villanova’s style of position-less basketball is really, really tough to beat because any of their players can beat you on any given night. Last night, with Michigan attempting to take Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges out of the game, it was Donte DiVincenzo that exploded for 31 points off the bench.
Jay Wright has done a masterful job of putting his guys in a great position to win games. You can see the confidence he instills in his team, making it easier for his player to play relaxed but smart basketball.
But at the end of the day, as great as the elite coaches like Jay Wright and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski are, the players need to put the ball in the bucket and perform on the court—which is exactly what Villanova does. Villanova’s players are put in a position to have success, but make no mistake: The players can flat-out ball.
Everyone saw DiVincenzo’s “Donte’s Inferno” performance last night, and while he’s a quasi-starter that would start for almost anyone else in the country, he does come off the bench. But he plays his role without any issues, which is a testament to the job Jay Wright does keeping his team tight and caring for one another. And while great players always want to start, having someone that can come off the bench and fill it up like that is a huge weapon and a jolt of energy for the team.
Then for the starting five there’s Naismith Player of the Year Jalen Brunson, potential NBA lottery selection Mikal Bridges, former 2016 All-Final Four teamer Phil Booth, Fordham transfer and former A10 Rookie of the Year Eric Paschall, and spectacular redshirt freshman Omari Spellman.
Freshman Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree lead the bench along with DiVincenzo, but even those on the roster that don’t get in the game are always engaged and doing whatever they can to help the team. Villanova plays team basketball on the court, and that team bond is also displayed by the kids on the end of the bench.
The versatility of all five guys on the court is unquestioned. Again, they can all beat you in so many ways, and they play the right way with teamwork that gets the best shot on each possession. But the most underrated facet of the Wildcats’ game is their team defense, which can clamp down on opposing offenses to get their own offense going into transition to knock down devastating threes.
And one of the best parts about Villanova’s roster is that they aren’t just a bunch of guys that are just good athletes—they are also good young men. They don’t get into trouble, and they are just easy to root for. The Wildcats aren’t really into the trash talk thing, as they let their play do the talking.
While Villanova plays in the Sixers’ and Flyers’ Wells Fargo Center and doesn’t have a traditional homecourt where they have a stadium packed with a crazed student section like the Cameron Crazies (though it’s hard to match the Crazies), Nova Nation is still very strong. Also, the former players like Ed Pinckney, Kyle Lowry, Josh Hart, and Ryan Arcidiacono (who were all at last night’s victory) show up to games often. Villanova’s program is like a family.
It also helps that Villanova targets excellent talent that has the intention of staying at school and hopefully graduating instead of just having their eye on the NBA. The coaching staff can help develop the athletes into top-notch players and people, and those players get valuable experience that is critical in March and April.
Put everything together—great coaching, great players, versatility across the board, unselfishness, experience, a family atmosphere—and Villanova is a true juggernaut program. Jay Wright has been the head coach at Villanova since 2001, and he is not going anywhere. In a day and age with uber-talented freshman basically using college basketball as a necessary step to the pros, Wright has built his school into the modern-day blue blood college basketball program.
Over the last few years, Villanova has taken over as the true powerhouse in college basketball. And they might not slow down anytime soon.