March Madness 2017: Villanova aims to repeat
The Villanova Wildcats had never won a national championship in men’s basketball before last season. Now, after a heart-stopping win over the North Carolina Tar Heels in the title game last season, Villanova is looking to be greedy with a repeat.
For head coach Jay Wright and his charges, the Wildcats have to be feeling good. Villanova is rolling through its Big East competition, albeit with a tough game on Saturday afternoon on the road against the No. 24 Xavier Musketeers. At 23-2 (10-2), the Wildcats are sitting No. 2 overall in the country, putting themselves in fine position to be on the top line of the NCAA Tournament.
Nobody would ever accuse the Wildcats of playing an easy schedule. The team from Philadelphia has already beaten a litany of ranked opponents including the Purdue Boilermakers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Creighton Blue Jays, Virginia Cavaliers and Xavier. The rest of the schedule presents some more legitimate challengers, including a rematch against the Butler Bulldogs (who beat Villanova earlier this season) and Creighton.
At this juncture, it would be shocking to see the Wildcats fall short of the Final Four. The sport doesn’t have any team that could be called dominant, especially with the Dule Blue Devils having such a middling campaign. The Kentucky Wildcats are good, but certainly beatable. The biggest threat might be the Kansas Jayhawks, who can play both inside and outside. It’s nothing against the undefeated Gonzaga Bulldogs, but they don’t play the same quality opponents that Villanova and the other aforementioned teams see on a nightly basis.
For teams trying to take down the Wildcats, the toughest component to stop is the versatility. Villanova has four players that average double digits in points, led by Josh Hart with 19.2 points to go with 6.6 rebounds per game. The senior guard is a name to watch once March Madness rolls around. Hart has plenty of help, including sophomore backcourt mate Jalen Brunson. Brunson, an Illinois native, is averaging 14 points per night.
Villanova has a nice eight0man rotation, showcasing some depth that could protect it against foul trouble in the NCAA Tournament. For years, we have seen top-heavy teams sustain foul trouble to a key player, forcing them to play without much punch for long stretches. That shouldn’t be a problem for Wright, who has ample options off the bench.
With only a handful of games remaining until the madness of March, the Wildcats have just a few pitfalls to navigate. This should be a time to fine tune their game and get right before trying to become the first team since the Florida Gators of the Joakim Noah era to win consecutive titles.