As December crawled it's way to an end, Villanova university was dotted with a wintry blanket that covered the Radnor campus. Students left their basketball minds in their dorms and turned on their thinking caps.
From the Connelly Center to Alumni Hall students stayed indoors. They flipped through massive textbooks and prepared for one of the least exciting times of the season, not the matchup with La Salle for Big 5 dominance, but Finals Week, the campus wide plague rapidly spreading throughout the university.
For some, the lightbulbs went off immediately. Chris Wilson, a sophomore engineering major, waned the late hours studying mechanical engineering and viewing an 8x10 notecard for his upcoming two-hour exam. 19 year-old Brian Whitehouse was doing the same, but taking the occasional break.
Instead of studying, Whitehouse cracked his gray, university-issued laptop and looked for updates on Villanova recruiting, an area where he follows the most of any basketball related topic. He was anticipating a new guard for the Wildcats in the coming weeks and was assured he would be more disappointed in his test grade than his expectations.
But everyone wasn't wrapped in their books. In the corner of the barely-lit Connelly Center sat Anna Russo. A sophomore math-major, Russo didn't fit the norm. One of the reasons she knew about Villanova was because of the basketball program. Yet unlike a majority of students at "Guard-U," she didn't come to see a Final Four run. But she did have the "long and short" story to how she ended up outside of Philadelphia.
"It wasn't on my radar at all," said Russo, a native of Chicago, Illinois and avid Chicago Blackhawks fan. "My college counselor told me to apply here and I got some really nice benefits from the school. I got wait-listed from my top choice and I visited Villanova and I fell in love...I emailed my top school in Boston and decided to come here."
And her first semester last year wasn't an easy one even though she fell in love with the basketball program. The constant upsets and frequent disappointments made it a hard transition, but just like her classmates - the seemingly lifeless sophomore class that came into the college after two rough seasons under Jay Wright - she slowly found her muse outside of Villanova's grueling academics.
When she wasn't studying advanced Calculus or drawing algebraic graphs near dawn in her dorm room, Russo was watching basketball. More importantly, she was rooting for her new favorite team, one that didn't reside west of Tennessee or 759 miles from Philly.
"Before the season even started I was really excited about our team," Russo admitted one night prior to the Wildcats romp of crosstown rival La Salle University.
"I was really excited about the opportunities with the changing around of the conferences. It's grown so much. Everyone's experiences have gotten better. There's a whole bandwagon and all that. It's been a lot of fun."
Bragging rights improve the best nights
For a vast majority of students at Villanova, bragging rights - the positivity one has to his or her university after large feats - is one of, if not, the most important value an undergraduate can cherish.
Not everyone came to Villanova to watch a basketball team that hasn't won a national championship in nearly thirty years nor celebrate a team that hasn't won a conference title since 1995. But that's not to say that it isn't thought about frequently by the members that flood the Pavilion's student sections game-to-game.
That was the case for Cody Plourde. Plourde said he paid attention to the team but it wasn't a big factor when picking between Villanova and Pittsburgh. The opportunities for his future is what made him pick the Philadelphian suburbs. But since stepping on campus, past scenic east Lancaster avenues, things have changed.
Not only have the Wildcats started winning, but Plourde has made basketball a huge part of his social life.
He's on the sidelines at every home game, likely cheering for his favorite player JayVaughn Pinkston. Yet, it's not enough. He still gets mocked at home by his close friends. But he said they'll stop laughing when Villanova is holding a Big East Championship.
"All my friends were really giving me [expletive] about not being ranked," Plourde said from his bite-size, brick-patterned room in the corner of the third floor of Sheehan Hall.
"So now I can give them a little bit of that back. It's lifted the school up a little bit in terms of basketball. Last year played a big part. Three wins against top five opponents kind of brought the program back up to where it was in the past."
The trend continued.
Originally the strength of 'Nova's business school lured Anthony Miller from Farmington, Connecticut, though the only reason he heard about the college was because of the athletics. Now, he's next to Plourde watching Villanova basketball from their wooden bunk bed in Sheehan Hall or court side with the crazies. He said that "the sports program's give students here a greater sense of pride."
Another Connecticut native, Nicole Rodgers, traveled south for college because of the class size options and the community values the school presented. Basketball wasn't big to her when she applied, but it changed her outlook on the reason she picked Villanova: community.
Rodgers said the campus and pride at Villanova has been at a high all semester. Though she doesn't know "all the rules" of basketball, she knows that the spirit of her classmates at basketball games are tangible.
"It makes everyone more excited to go to the basketball games," said Rodgers, a 19-year old communication major, when asked about all of the rankings and winning steaks surrounding Villanova.
"I go to a fair amount of the home games. It's fun to go with your friends and cheer on your school. It brings another sense of community to the school and it adds to the social atmosphere. This [semester] feels like an ongoing pep-rally."
Northern breed of "Cameron Crazies": "Rebellious Radnorites"
The continued notion that school spirit can liven up a dry campus is a generative norm that most undergraduates are aware of before packing their bags and leaving home for their first semester of college.
But it comes to a point where, just being excited about one's college or specific athletic team is a mentality. The continuous and creative forms of passion are what has made college basketball elite and Villanova is no different from the notorious "Cameron Crazies" from Duke in this regard.
The Augustinian Army holds a different breed of fan, sometimes more reserved, yet not tight-lipped about expressing love for their favorite team. Chicago brought Villanova multiple sophomore students to the area. Some were like Russo, a reserved 5-foot-5 math major who spends as much time cheering as studying. Others were like Krystian Seebert.
Seebert sees Villanova basketball from a different angle, one usually absorbed at the front of a raucous student section dedicated the the most loyal fans. So how did the Wildcats draw one of it's biggest fans? What brought him over seven hundred miles from the "Windy City?"
"We don't have the game day experience in the fall, tailgating or what not," said Seebert, a 19-year old economics and psychology double major. "Basketball season to us is what I imagine football being at a big state school. It's a big part of the Villanova experience."
"Ten percent of my week I devote to Villanova basketball," he continued. "One of my first options coming here was for the athletics. All things being equal I wouldn't go to Alabama for the sports environment, I needed my degree to mean something."
For a student that refers to Ryan Arcidiacono as "White Mamba 2.0" his enthusiasm isn't infrequent when walking Villanova's pristine halls.
Rory Belange from Hudson, New York listed his top two important things in his life as "Villanova basketball then breathing." Sara Stankiewicz came to the university for the elite nursing program and the school's love for service. She quickly began coming home from breaks early to watch games with family members.
One student, who didn't want her name printed, said she's close friends with many members of the team and that she goes to every game. Kaitlin Farinella, a business major from Livingston, New Jersey, goes to all the home games and raves about Jay Wright and his snazzy dressing. She said "He's got to keep it up with the suits."
The pride has turned some students into believers, others into supporters and fixed the campus on the idea that a championship is more than possible. Farinella said the undefeated streak made it easier for bandwagons to appear and for school spirit to thrive.
Even for Seebert, it's can turn him sentimental at times. When asked about how the current streak of wins - the then undefeated record - has affected his life, his one-window cell in Sheehan Hall grew quiet. His charming, bleached white smile closed.
Jokes or not, the importance of watching, participating and being a part of the undergraduate experience - from the stands or the hardwood - is important to even the most jovial student.
"I'd like to take my kids to Wells Fargo Center some day," Seebert admitted, his joking now replaced with a confident murmur. His head now pointed toward the dim, fluorescent lighting.
"I'd talk about how I say Arcidiacono play here and they'd be proud of that. I'll most definitely tell family members about this. This streak is tremendously important. It's about bragging rights too. I have friends that go to Iowa that were watching the game and it felt so good to rub it in their face to say 'my school beat your school'"
Future at Villanova: Basketball bringing the best out of students, win or lose
Despite what the critics may say, what the unabridged texts on education read on the collegiate undergraduate experience, it wouldn't be complete without a proper sense of pride for his or her's college decision.
But outside of the historic campus, the cerulean Big East banners that sway for dozens of minutes when the lights shut off after home games or the wide beams, the bright smiles, the obvious shift is ebullience on campus, Villanova basketball, win or lose, is doing something right. Students couldn't be happier.
And the joy isn't just on-campus.
Alumni have come in droves during the winter recess to support their alma mater and keep the Pavilion loud when the students have taken their bi-annual hiatus. The squad has attracted new fans when they matched up with Big East teams.
Nerlens Noel, the Philadelphia 76ers rookie forward, found his way to the suburbs to watch the Wildcats play Providence. Donte Divincenzo and Mikal Bridges, committed recruits for 2014 and 2015, have been to nearly a half dozen home games to view how players interact in their future home. But it doesn't stop there.
In North Philadelphia, nearly twenty miles from the center of campus at Mitchell's barbershop on the corner of 29th and Cecil B. Moore avenues sat Jamal Fischer, a junior in high school, one of the neighborhood's last budding stars. He said he wanted to be an engineer, a major not typical of a rough environment like Brewerytown. Fischer said one of his first choices was Villanova so he could watch "good basketball."
The cycle continues.
Most lost hope about 'Nova basketball, the staple to a private school renown for academics, lost in the shuffle of the city's long line or rich athletics and cast in the brisk northeast. But for current sophomores, their freshman years saw a change, not one that will be written in the next history books, but to them, a valuable form of positivity.
Re-enter Brian Whitehouse, the sophomore mechanical engineering major from Houston, Texas. Whitehouse sat a desk outside his dorm in Alumni Hall, his nearly-broken computer shut and his hands folded. His procrastination for his future exam was over, his exhaustion was palpable.
But before he left the study area, he cast a slight smile from left side of his face resting in a small dimple below a face full of tiny, almost unnoticeable freckles. Villanova basketball was back. And his emotion was synonymous to many students on campus. Nine games could never mean so much to a culture, a campus, a lifetime.
"The generation that's here, there's a lot of parents that were here back in 1985 when we won the championship," Whitehouse reminisced. "The stories are outrageous. I was told they had to close the school down because the campus was rioting. They sent the kids home for the weekend because they didn't want them here anymore.
"Back in 2009 when we went to the Final Four, it wasn't quite as extreme, but the tournament defined it. Everyone feels this momentum that we are going with. We came in underrated and we weren't suppose to do well in the Big East and now we sit at the top of the conference. Nine games are just the beginning of the season. It's all about the tournament."
The 2013-14 regular season brought current students their greatest gift upon walking the snowy halls of Villanova, it gave alumni another reason to don their finest gear. Win or lose, the greatest element that brought Villanova together is back and it isn't going anywhere.
Five letters, one ever-lasting sensation. Pride.
Here is an infograph that has published the 50 interviews done by some named and some unnamed sophomore students from Villanova University in various areas where specific questions were asked. Students agreed to the interviews. VUHoop's Ryan Saccoman contributed in collecting this data.