Villanova coach Jay Wright signals to the crowd after his second-seeded Wildcats upset top-ranked Kansas in the South Regional final on Saturday.
Yeah, it is.
When discussions start to delve into college basketball’s royalty, and questions arise about the merits of schools not named North Carolina or Duke or Kentucky or Kansas or Michigan State being national powers, keep this in mind:
Villanova deserves to be in the conversation, and, frankly, the evidence is kinda overwhelming that it ranks among the elite, especially in the last, oh, say, 12 years.
It was then, in Season 4 of the Jay Wright Era that the Wildcats re-emerged from the doldrums of the Steve Lappas reign and final few editions of Rollie Massimino Ball to claim their status as one of the country’s best.
A top-10 program? A marquee attraction? An NCAA big-timer? Yeah, ’Nova most certainly is.
Put it this way, with Wright’s latest group earning a spot in this weekend’s Final Four, only seven schools can claim more trips to the sport’s Holy Land than the two the Wildcats can in the time frame we’re talking about here. Kentucky, Michigan State and North Carolina all have four, while Louisville, Connecticut, Florida and UCLA three each … and the latter two there haven’t been relevant since 2007 and 2008, respectively.
Heck, both of ’Nova’s national semifinal appearances under Wright will have come since then – in 2009 and this Saturday. The ’Cats have averaged 25 wins a season beginning with 2005, been to 11 NCAA Tournaments, securing two No. 1 seeds, three No. 2s and one No. 3 along the way, and qualified for as many Final Fours as Duke and Kansas.
Yeah, you read that right.
Any narrative being put out there that ’Nova is some mid-majorish upstart that either has shown a spunky resolve to challenge the college game’s hierarchy and ought to be admired OR displayed the unmitigated gall to do the same and ought to know its rightful place among the Not Ready for Prime-Time Players is about as insightful as a Trump or Clinton Presidential campaign speech.
Hell, the Wildcats, who have won more games than anyone else the last three seasons, have been college basketball royalty for some time now. Oh, they may not be Kentucky or North Carolina, but they’re pretty close to Michigan State and they’ve surpassed the likes of UCLA and Indiana.
Basically, they’re fellow 2016 national semifinalist Syracuse, just without all the sanctions and soap operas.
Yo, possess degrees right here from Villanova Philly Big Five rival Temple and Big Ten staple Illinois, both of which have pretty impressive resumes and histories when it comes to college hoops, and both of which lost out to the Main Line school when it came to signing top-five recruit Jalen Brunson last year because of one thing – the Wildcats have a much better basketball program.
So this isn’t exactly a joyful exercise for me.
Just can’t avoid reality, even teeth-grinding reality, is all.
’Nova is that good. Has been that good for some time.
It is a national power. It is elite. As annoying as that may be to myself and others whose squads keep getting kicked in the face by the ’Cats or the bluebloods who refuse to admit greatness in what they deem lesser lights for fear it may take some shine off their own teams’ greatness, it is.
Yeah, it is.
- Jack Kerwin | email@example.com
KEEPING IT REAL
It is a common occurrence.
In our haste to right what we have deemed wrong, reality often takes a back seat to guilt. Often leading to the absurd.
OK, got it. Villanova’s Jay Wright deserves a ton of credit for what he’s done with the Wildcats, taking them from the rubble left by Steve Lappas and molding them into one of the nation’s best outfits on a year-in, year-out basis.
But, please, spare me and anyone else with some common-sense perspective about how the guy has been mistreated in Philly or overly criticized.
For starters, he’s a media magnet. Everyone loves the guy. Personable, good looking and a sharp dresser, he’s the perfect Ken doll from NCAA productions of what a college hoops coach should look like and act like, and, oh, yeah, it doesn’t hurt that he’s proven to be a quality coach, running what at least appears to be a pristine program.
If anything, he’s held in higher esteem than any of the city’s other Division I coaches, almost as an “untouchable” because he gets the best players, competes in the best conference, and, not for nothing, works at the nicest school out of the group.
But, even with that, Wright has no business being excused from criticism when it is warranted, and when you have three teams in six years receive No. 2 or better seeds for March Madness and they’re part of an 0-for-5 run you experience from 2010 through 2015 with not getting beyond the first weekend of the tournament, guess what, you deserve to get criticized.
Frankly, you deserve to get ripped, and Wright hasn’t been. Criticized, yes – mildly, not overtly.
Could he be more appreciated for all that he’s done on the Main Line in his 15 years at the helm? Yeah, probably so. But let’s hold off on comparisons to someone such as Bill Self when the Kansas coach has an .823 winning percentage with the Jayhawks and Wright’s is .690 with the Wildcats, he has a national title and two title-game appearances and Wright doesn’t have any, and he has 114 more career victories (and 54 fewer losses) than Wright while being a year younger.