Tuesday, April 3, 2018


Last nights thumping of Michigan by Villanova is a culmination of Jay Wright and the Wildcats establishing themselves as one of the new blue bloods of college basketball. If Jay Wright sticks around, it’s likely there are more Final 4’s around the corner for the new Big East flagship program.

Wright and Villanova began drawing criticism as a March flopper following their 2015 loss to NC State in the second round as a 1-seed. That followed a second round loss to eventual champ UConn as a 2-seed in the second round in 2014. Going further back, they lost as 2-seed to St. Mary’s in 2010 after surviving a scare from Robert Morris in the opening tilt. In between, Nova was searching for an identity as Wright and his staff looked to re-establish themselves.

Prior to that, from 2005-09, Nova had great success, making 4 Sweet 16’s and a Final 4 run in 2009. Like many programs before them, sometimes, you get lost in the wilderness for whatever reason. Beginning with the recruitment of Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, Nova round Nova dudes and the culture established when he originally arrived in Philly was back for Jay Wright and Villanova.

There’s a lesson here. Wright failed to make the tournament his first three years at Villanova. He took slings and arrows as a March failure after great success in a five year period. We lack patience in sports. In college sports, patience is sometimes required. Jay Wright didn’t become a dummy in 2010. Luck and circumstance all played a part as Villanova saw success elude them in March. We’re nearing the end of the decade and along with perhaps Duke, they’ve laid claim to program of the decade. Jay Wright has something only two other current coaches have, multiple national titles. He has more than Tom Izzo or Jim Boeheim. He’s a walking hall of famer.

Whether Villanova can sustain success is yet to be seen. The NBA will be a tempting lure for Jay Wright. UConn won 4 titles in 15 years and became an afterthought almost overnight. Nova loses Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Omari Spellman probably played himself into guaranteed money this March. They still have Nova dudes coming back but success isn’t guaranteed. Whatever the case, any doubt Villanova or Jay Wright are capable of climbing the mountain again seems silly. Welcome to the land of the blue bloods.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Final 4 Thoughts and Random Observations

The biggest surprise last night wasn’t the winners, but the ease at which Villanova handled Kansas. I thought Michigan would wear down Loyola. They did. I thought Kansas had put away the bad KU we had seen during the Big XII season. They hadn’t.

Loyola had a great season. A season they’ll find increasingly difficult to repeat as time goes on. They’ll also be kicking themselves. The talk on twitter after Michigan jumped out to a 12-4 lead was they’d be kicking themselves for not building a bigger lead as both teams scuffled on offense. My thought was Loyola was getting to the rim without trouble and just missing too many bunnies. Sure enough, they closed the half on a 25-10 run executing their offense with precision and brilliance. 

Even after 8 minutes in the 2nd half, Michigan had only shaved a point off the halftime lead. Then Loyola had that stretch we’d seen against Nevada and to a lesser extent Kansas State where the offense got stuck. Marques Townes started cramping and things went sideways fast. Mo Wagner was the best player on the court last night and in a sense, willed the Wolverines to victory with some help from Charles Matthews as the Michigan guards were largely absent. It was a performance for the ages. Wagner joined Akeem Olajuwon and Larry Bird as the only players to get 20 points and 15 boards in a national semifinal. That’s nice company.

In the nightcap, Villanova set a Final 4 record with made 3-pointers in a game by halftime and largely cruised past a shellshocked Kansas team. It was vintage Villanova. They’ve been a juggernaught for 5 years. A win tomorrow cements them as one of the best runs in recent memory.

I saw criticism of Bill Self but I’m not sure what his answer was supposed to be. Even when they clamped down outside, Nova’s guards broke them down off the dribble freeing up shooters. They could have zoned all night but Nova was too good for that to be effective. Sadly for KU fans, it was one of those nights.

Brian mentioned to me it’s possible Nova shot its wad last night. It’s possible. They shot lights out against Oklahoma in 2016 and followed that up with a 77 point night against Carolina. Michigan can defend but I’m not sure their guards have seen a back court like Villanova’s all year. And while Nova had stretches of mediocre defensive play this season, they’re still 14th in defensive efficiency. I’d wager playing in an offensive minded Big East skewed their numbers. Michigan is a much better defensive team than KU and will guard the perimeter better but I’m having a hard time finding a big advantage for them. Spellman can take Mo and even if Wagner goes off again, Nova has far more options to counter than Loyola did.

Michigan has had a bit of the Gonzaga luck when it comes to the draw to get this far. They’ve beaten a 14, 6, 7, 8 and 11 to get to this point. That’s not their fault and quite frankly, Houston was better than a 6. And now that it’s a single game, I’m not sure any of that matters. They’ve won 14 in a row and that’s damn impressive. I just don’t see the advantage they have in this game. They play slower, 4 possessions slower than Nova but that won’t bother Villanova. Alabama and Texas Tech play slow, too and those were still double digit wins. Villanova is a healthy KP favorite. It’s 6-points with a 69% win probability. That sounds right to me.

Title Game Pick: Villanova 70 Michigan 64