The consensus narrative will never fit.
Oh, the hopeless romantics and script doctors and band-wagon jumpers out there, forever seeking the best this, the most that or the hardest to believe BS, may promote this idea that the Villanova University men’s basketball team somehow rose from mid-major-ish, no-name, tiny-school obscurity to slay other-worldly behemoths en route to a national championship, but reality says something different.
Make no mistake, the Wildcats achieved something special Monday night, beating North Carolina on a last-second 3-pointer by Kris Jenkins that will lift spirits along Lancaster Avenue for generations to come. But this was no rags to riches tale, nor some shocking, if not impossible, development.
No, this was the coronation of a program building toward greatness ever since Jay Wright took the coaching reins back in 2001. It was the culmination of a fantastic career by Ryan Arcidiacono that may have cemented him a spot on the school’s Mount Rushmore of hoops players, and, quite possibly, the foundation for much more in the future.
Now back among the elite? Man, the Wildcats have been elite ever since Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry graced the grounds of the institution’s picturesque suburban Philly campus a decade ago. They’d been to 10 NCAA tournaments in the 11 seasons prior to this year’s title run. Already reached two regional finals and a national semifinal.
Put it this way, Wright has been coveted for a long time now by programs professed to be much bigger time than ’Nova by the masses and he’s never been tempted to leave.
Ever ask yourself why?
The reason is because his program along the Main Line is about as big-time as it gets, whether outsiders near and far know it or not.
This year, the ’Cats were the dominant team in the NCAA tournament prior to Monday night, not the Tar Heels. Even before the Final Four, they had outdone the Heels, beating their first four NCAA opponents by 77 points to UNC’s 64 differential. Then they went out and annihilated Oklahoma Saturday in historical fashion, topping their fellow 2-seed by 44.
For the record, ’Nova faced a higher seed than UNC did in every single round – 15 to 16, 7 to 9, 3 to 5, 1 to 6, 2 to 10 and, finally, 1 to 2. There were no fluke wins for the ’Cats along the way, nor were there any gimmicky ploys like those that had marked, and possibly marred for some, the school’s previous championship effort 31 years earlier.
They were the best team in 2015-16. Period.
Not for nothing, but the ’Cats were on the verge of burying their much more ballyhooed foes in the title game, too, up 10, with possession and less than five minutes remaining. The haters and the rationalizers pointing to the “luck” bestowed ’Nova right before the break, which resulted in a deficit of five instead of nine courtesy of a Josh Hart block and Phil Booth jumper, somehow fail to grasp that Wright’s crew had imposed its will and life-sapping defensive pressure on UNC after intermission to outscore the Heels by 15 in the second half’s first 15 minutes.
Then they uncharacteristically backed off, and started making uncharacteristically bad plays – such as Arcidiacono’s two turnovers and Daniel Ochefu’s ridiculous dive at a pass already beyond his reach that opened the door for UNC’s Marcus Paige to drill the most inconceivable, body-contorting, double-pumping, game-tying 3-point desperation heave with 4.7 seconds remaining.
Frankly, if ’Nova were Cinderella, it would have caved right then and there with the Heels obviously wearing the glass slipper at that point, and either turned the ball over and lost in regulation or just faded to black in overtime. Instead, it responded … in glorious, big-time fashion.
That small school with 10,000 students, that no-name program that routinely signs some of the nation’s top recruits and plays in that mid-major-ish Big East, a conference ranked among the nation’s top four, ahead of the Big Ten and SEC, all season, suddenly was champ.
How shocking … not.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
NOT EVERYONE FOOLED
Kudos to the haters.
In and around Philly, those who cannot stand Villanova and refused to root for the Wildcats in their quest to win a national championship, actually had a better grasp of the situation than those pulling for Philly’s best college basketball program.
’Nova is big time. It is a powerhouse. It is elite, and its fans and alumni generally are a pampered and privileged lot.
Basically, the ’Cats and their supporting crew represent everything that the remaining schools and their followers are not, and the anti-’Nova jealousy just oozing through a wide swath in the region so obviously the past few weeks only confirms that.
If anything, it served as a tip of the cap to everything that Jay Wright has created out on the Main Line. While a nation of surprisingly unknowing wasted time falling for a silly, rags-to-riches fairytale, those close to home dealt with reality – gritted teeth or not.
That being the area’s rich getting richer … with many not liking it.
That “hate,” to me, is a far greater symbol of validation for what Villanova accomplished, and actually is.
The irony is, Villanova has set the standard to which all the city’s Division I schools strive to achieve. Instead of bitching about those lucky SOBs in suburban Philly, and whining about the misfortune of their own school(s), perhaps taking a better look at what ’Nova has done to get where it is would be a wiser course of action for the haters and those they support.
Maybe that would lead to some much-needed change with certain programs, especially any that, theoretically at least, have the resources to outdo whatever the ’Cats have done.
Ahem, yeah, the finger is pointed directly at you, Temple.