March Madness team profile: Villanova Wildcats
Villanova is no stranger to great college basketball teams. They have appeared in the NCAA Tournament 36 times. They have advanced as far as the Final Four a total of five times. And twice they have cut down the nets as basketball national champions, including in 1985 when they became the lowest seeded team to ever win the title what is considered by many to be the perfect game. Villanova shot an eye-popping 78% from the field, enabling the 8th seed to beat the best team in the country, Georgetown.
And oh, let’s not forget that Villanova’s other title came just one year ago, and these defending national champions return many of the stars from that title winning team. In fact, with an expected top seed this March, the current class of seniors, led by Josh Hart, will finish their college careers with four straight tournaments of either a #1 or #2 seed. They aren’t just good, they are great, and seemingly great every single season.
Like in years past, this team’s success is built on defense. They are the top defense side in the Big East and one of the most consistently effective defensive teams in the country. They pressure the shot, are one of the best teams when it comes to steals to turnover ratio, and that of course then fuels the offense. An offense that is led by Naismith Award candidate Hart, the hero of last season’s championship game, Kris Jenkins, and sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson.
When Brunson signed on with Villanova he did so as one of the highest rated point guards in the country. He was a McDonald’s All-American and had won a pair of gold medals with USA basketball during his time in high school. But instead of demanding the ball as a freshman, as many with his pedigree would be right to do, he took a complimentary role during last season’s run to the National Championship. Not only did he learn about success coming from the sum of its parts, and improved leadership skills, Villanova coach Jay Wright credits it with making him a better player as the primary ball handler, since he spent so much time learning what it means to play in a different role.
There is no question that this team has all the pieces to make another run deep into the tournament and put themselves into the Final Four, giving them a shot to repeat as champions. That would duplicate the feat of the Florida Gators in 2006-2007 and the Duke Blue Devils in 1991-1992. Prior to that you have to go all the way back to 1973 and the UCLA Bruins for the last back-to-back championships. So of course it won’t be easy, and the odds are stacked against the Wildcats. And a down season for the Big East might mean that Villanova won’t enter the NCAA Tournament quite as battle tested as some other teams. But most of the players have already cut down the nets once. They have tasted the sweetness of success, and know exactly what it takes to win. So, don’t be surprised if just like in Houston a year ago, Villanova is your National Champion.