The Villanova Wildcats enter this week as the #1 ranked team in the nation. This past week they defeated ranked Gonzaga in the Jimmy V Classic and Big Five rival LaSalle. Nova matches up with Temple this week, looking to make it another sweep of the Big Five as the team continues to play at a high level and is deserving of this #1 ranking. While other elite teams are still trying to figure things out, Nova seems like a well-oiled machine already. Why might that be? They are simply different from the other elite programs and here’s how:
A Clear Identity
The Wildcats have a clear identity while some of the other top teams like Kentucky do not due to their inexperienced freshman who are still trying to learn the ropes at the NCAA level. Although Nova doesn’t have a single senior in their rotation, they have a nice mix of juniors (most notably Jalen Brunson and redshirt junior Mikal Bridges) who have developed into two of college basketball’s top players. Phil Booth is a great two-way player as well joining Brunson and Bridges in the “battle tested” category as all three players played in the 2016 National Championship game.
Recruiting and Players
Villanova typically will not snag the top 25 talent out of high school like the big powerhouses such as Duke and Kentucky. However, they do recruit multiple guys who are typically in the 50-100 range. Jay Wright and company will still lure high quality and talented players, but kids who know they aren’t quite ready for the next step and need to develop first. Wright and his coaching staff do a tremendous job of developing players over multiple years and grooming them into champions.
Villanova seems to always have players on their roster who are unselfish and will do whatever it takes to help the team win. Far too often you see elite teams having issues with chemistry and players not playing hard. This is due in large part because players are so used to dominating games in AAU that they aren’t used to sharing the load or playing a little bit harder. Every year the Wildcats have multiple guys who can take over a game and play as a collective unit. The team checks their egos at the door and buys into the culture.
Each year, the Wildcats are made up of players that come from great families and are true student-athletes. The school is never involved in NCAA investigations and scandals. That is not to say that other programs don’t have these types of kids, it just seems that these high-profile schools seem to have more controversy and drama surrounding them.
There have been occasions were Jay Wright has chosen not to start a player because they were late to class or failed to attend class, but those instances are extremely rare for the Villanova program. The issues that Nova has are temporary and minor compared to other top programs like Louisville who has had multiple major off-court issues over the past few years.
The team works on easy and often overlooked skills such as utilizing pump fakes to get past defenders for open drives to the hoop and open jumpers. They also jump stop which allows them to stay in control when entering the lane for layups or kick outs to shooters. Additionally, the bounce pass is a lost art in the game of basketball but is a highly effective skill. This type of pass is ideal for fast breaks and for players who are cutting to the hoop for easier baskets. You don’t see most teams utilize these fundamentals enough, but Nova has mastered them.
The Final Verdict
Nova has elevated themselves in recent years as an elite program that can be mentioned in the same sentence as programs like Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina. It has their own unique way of doing things and it is extremely efficient and effective. They have built themselves into the winningest program in NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball over the past four seasons, winning four consecutive Big East Conference Champions and a lock to make the tournament every year.
Head Coach Jay Wright and the entire Villanova program have continued to impress both on and off the court and I don’t see that changing. When it is all said and done, Jay Wright will be elected into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This 2017 team is deserving of the #1 ranking and looks like they will be a legitimate threat to win their 2nd National Championship in three seasons.