by Josh Naso / @silverfox8008
Villanova basketball has a long and storied history. A plethora of talented names have passed through the program, among them Paul Arizin, Ed Pinckney, Kerry Kittles, Alvin Williams, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry, just to name a few. The Wildcats have four Final Four appearances and the famous national championship as an 8 seed in 1985.
Under coach Jay Wright, the Wildcat faithful have become accustomed to yearly trips to the NCAA tournament and a steady spot in the top 25. This year’s team has lived up to expectations, compiling a 29-2 regular-season record, winning the Big East regular season championship, and putting itself in position to compete for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. For a variety of reasons, the Cats have flown somewhat below the radar, even locally, but I would argue that this team is the best in the history of Villanova basketball.
One reason the Wildcats haven’t made a lot of noise has to do with the conference they play in. People had gotten used to the basketball superpower that the Big East had been prior to the realignment that has occurred over the past few years. Losing teams like Syracuse, Notre Dame, UConn and Louisville naturally damaged the reputation of the Big East.
But the conference is still composed of proud programs full of history and tradition. The Big East has also outperformed preseason expectations. As a whole, the conference teams put up a fantastic record in non-conference play, and that led to a competitive and exciting conference schedule. The Big East is ranked No. 2 in conference RPI, and it looks as though six of the 10 teams in the league will be getting invites to the big dance.
Another reason why Villanova is somewhat overlooked is the lack of a true “star” player. The Cats don’t have the ridiculous number of future NBA players that Kentucky has, and they don’t have a Jahlil Okafor, a D’Angelo Russell or a Frank Kaminsky. In fact, they might not have a single NBA player on their roster.
While the lack of “star power” might cost them some media attention, it is actually one of the team’s greatest assets. Instead of relying on one or two guys to give them the majority of their production, this Villanova team has eight guys who could step up on any given night. Even if they have one or two or even three guys struggling, there are still five other guys who have shown the ability to carry the load.
The depth affords coach Wright great flexibility in terms of lineups and substitutions. It makes it much easier to keep guys fresh, providing an edge at the end of games, as well as in a tournament situation.
This also creates a game-planning nightmare for opposing coaches. Regardless of whom an opponent tries to neutralize, Villanova is ready to send somebody else into the game to pick up the slack. Given the short turnaround times in NCAA tournament games, this could become a major advantage for the Wildcats.
Former great Villanova teams, teams like the Kittles-Williams-Jason Lawson teams of the early ’90s or the Foye-Allen Ray-Curtis Sumpter teams from the mid-2000s, were led by top-flight, NBA-caliber talent. Although the current team lacks any clear-cut NBA prospects, it is the deepest Villanova team I have seen in my 31 years. Being able to go eight-deep without a considerable drop in production and performance is pretty impressive.
The team plays incredibly unselfish basketball and plays with great defensive tenacity. ‘Nova ranks in the top 20 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The depth and the advantages it affords have already been discussed. The Cats also have something that they have previously lacked under Jay Wright, a legitimate presence inside. Junior Daniel Ochefu has improved mightily during his time at Villanova, and has become a force on the boards and a true offensive threat on the low block. The Wildcats finally have a true center to complement their always stellar guard play.
Ultimately, the team will be judged by what it does in the coming weeks. But the Wildcats have won more regular-season games (29) than any team in program history. They have a Big East regular season championship. They have eight players who can score in double figures, and regardless of who is doing the scoring on a particular night, the rest of the group continues to play its role, never letting scoring or getting shots affecting individual play. ‘Nova will enter the NCAA tournament with some lofty goals, but regardless of how things play out, this is the best all-around team in Villanova basketball history.
Josh Naso aka The Silver Fox has a love for all things sports that borders on disorder. Here, he aims to share his thoughts on and passion for those sports with you.