Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono, the face of Villanova's program for four years now, goes all out at all times for the Wildcats. They are 114-27 in his career.
It’s an interesting dynamic.
Six Division I college basketball programs situated in a city or just outside it. Five of them linked by an annual series against one another, with the other a welcome opponent at times as well.
All with passionate fan bases, be they big or small. All with thousands of alums residing in the area, some just miles from one of the campuses.
Given all that, emotions can run high, and allegiances can vary. So, too, can the level of disdain for the programs that are not your own.
In general, the one disliked the most by the natives is the one appreciated the most by outsiders.
So, with that backdrop, of being a native and having graduated from a different Philly school, it stands to reason my feelings for Villanova would range somewhere from disgust to hatred.
It’s just that has never been the case.
Oh sure, the alma mater, Temple, gets my full support in all head-to-head athletic endeavors. But when the Owls are out of the mix, hey, got no reason to hold any grudge against any of the other locals doing well. Even ’Nova.
It’s not like the Wildcats are the Duke Blue Devils or something.
Frankly, if anything, what head coach Jay Wright has built out on the Main Line is to be commended. We’re not talking North Carolina or Kansas in terms of budget or prestige. Yet, right here, right now, we are talking about a program on the same level in terms of how it performs.
Put it this way, tonight’s Elite Eight matchup pitting Wright’s Wildcats against Bill Self’s Jayhawks ain’t no accident. Nor, at this point, should it be a surprise.
Villanova, like Kansas, has been ranked No. 1 in the nation this season. It, like Kansas, is deep, talented and tough.
Holy cow, is it tough.
Perhaps no other trait stands out during Wright’s tenure than the toughness his teams display – mentally, emotionally and physically. If you happened to follow any in his 15 years at ’Nova, the prevailing theme is that no matter what happened, pro or con, ahead or behind, close game or not, the ’Cats always keep coming. No backing off. No backing down.
Oh, they haven’t been perfect under Wright. Indeed, the bottom seemed to fall out in 2011-12, when, after an almost decade-long run of near-brilliance by the likes of Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Curtis Sumpter, Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham that yielded two Sweet 16s, an Elite Eight and a Final Four, the Wildcats limped home at 13-19.
Indeed, Wright’s time at Nova, to some right then, seemed as if it may have played out. That the program was ripe for change.
Maybe it did, but that change didn’t come in the form of the coach leaving. Instead, Ryan Arcidiacono arrived on campus … as the ultimate personification of what a Jay Wright Villanova Wildcat is meant to be and took the program to another level.
Four years later, the suburban Philly product continues to show why with absolutely inspiring exhibitions of hustle, heart, awareness, leadership, talent, never-say-die ’tude and, most of all, toughness.
Oh, he’s one annoying son of a gun if you can’t stand ’Nova or scrappy white guys who actually possess serious basketball skill.
But neither have ever been an issue for me.
NBA future or not, the impact Arcidiacono has had on ’Nova has been mind-boggling. Not only did he jump right into the starting lineup and undertake a captaincy from Day One, but he got the ’Cats winning again – a lot – and he exponentially reinforced the grit that had started to subside with their performance.
His freshman year, they went 20-14. Ever since, they’ve been the winningest team in college basketball, racking up 94 victories in 107 games. Though last season he walked away as the Big East’s player of the year, he actually stepped up his game in this one.
Field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, free-throw percentage, rebound average, assist average, steal average, scoring average, diving after loose balls … he set career highs in all.
Frankly, there is nothing about him, or his game, or his school, for me not to like.
You wanna root against ’Nova, against Arcidiacono, be my guest. Just won’t be joining you.
- Jack Kerwin | firstname.lastname@example.org
This is it.
Talk about you want about North Carolina, Virginia, the ACC in general, the athleticism of Oregon or the scoring prowess of Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield, the reality is the best two teams in college basketball this season, factoring in 2015-16 as a whole and how each is performing right now, square off tonight in Louisville, Ky., with the winner earning a spot in next weekend’s Final Four.
Villanova, Kansas … the floor is all yours.
Put it this way, if the second-seeded Wildcats or the top-seeded Jayhawks don’t end up walking away with the national championship trophy a week from this coming Monday, the titlist certainly won’t be the top team this season from start to finish.
On a night, in a moment, perhaps courtesy of one shot, maybe. But, honest to goodness, the best from October until April? No, that’s going to be determined tonight.
Which is why it was kinda funny to hear people stunned at the ease with which Villanova disposed of third-seeded Miami on Thursday night.
Not for nothing, but if yours truly was re-seeding things prior to the start of this weekend’s Sweet 16, Miami would have been No. 14. Of course, my No. 15, Syracuse, topped my No. 8, Gonzaga, to reach Sunday’s Elite Eight matchup with my No. 4 Virginia.
But let’s digress, shall we …
Kansas ended the regular season atop the polls, and rightly so. Loaded from top to bottom, a regular-season and tournament champion from a power-5 conference, and with one of the nation’s best coaches, it is a legit No. 1. That being said, the only thing keeping ’Nova from being viewed the same way is the stigma many have with its conference – get over it, the Big East is BIG TIME – and that it lost its tournament title game by a basket … to arguably the nation’s hottest team right then, Seton Hall.
Frankly, ’Nova has been the most impressive team in the NCAA tournament thus far. There is no debate.
Face of the program Ryan Arcidiacono is a very good college player, but he’s hardly the only component to Jay Wright’s outfit. Heck, he’s only the third-leading scorer behind Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, and ’Nova also has future NBA players in senior center Daniel Ochefu and freshman guard Jalen Brunson, who, at worst, was a top-5 recruit when he committed.
None of the other six teams remaining have the depth or firepower of these two.
Neither are unbeatable, of course. But they are the best teams in college basketball, as they have been all season.