Jay Wright is heading to the Final Four for the second time of his career, and after a hard-fought win over a top-ranked Kansas team, #NovaNation is buzzing with excitement. The trip to Houston will be another major milestone for the program, the fifth in their history.
The last Villanova appearance on the final weekend in 2009 ended with a disappointing loss to a much-better North Carolina team. This time, the 'Cats may be a statistical favorite heading into Saturday's game, but nonetheless must face an Oklahoma team that blew them off of the court in Hawaii earlier this season.
If they get their revenge and move on, we'll all be discussing whether this is the best Villanova team of the Jay Wright era. Are they?
They've got some key statistics in their favor already. This is the only group of Wildcats who have been ranked #1 in the AP Poll, or #1 in any poll during the regular season. This is one of only two Jay Wright teams to advance to the Final Four, and the only one of those teams who defeated the top-ranked team during the tourney. If they win against OU, they'll be the first Wildcats to play for the NCAA title since 1985.
If they win it all, that would probably end the conversation -- at least for Wright's era. Until Monday though, we can make this an academic affair.
This is a different type of team from the 2009 Final Four 'Cats. That team was a solid team led by a super-star in Scottie Reynolds, with an athletic and productive Dante Cunningham leading a supporting cast that played lock-down defense and scrapped for rebounds and turnovers. Scotty didn't do it all by himself in 2009, but the team certainly looked to their star guard to drive the offense, especially in the half-court sets.
In another way, this 2016 squad has more of a resemblance to the 2005-06 team that fell short of the Final Four -- losing to the eventual back-to-back champions, Florida. That team had stars, but nobody was the sole key to success. Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry ended up as first-round picks in the NBA and Allan Ray would sign on with the Boston Celtics as well. The rest of the team were no slouches either; Mike Nardi and Will Sheridan were also major contributors, and Chris Charles and Jason Fraser offered height off the bench. That team even featured contributions from Dante Cunningham -- though his freshman game was slightly less-polished.
The knock on that team from a decade ago was that they fell short in the tournament. It was never clear all season that they were the best team in the country -- and to be clear, nobody would have picked Florida to win it all either -- but they competed with some of the best. Unlike their 2016 and 2009 counterparts, Foye, Ray, Lowry, Nardi and Sheridan were a 1-seed when they entered the tournament. They were expected to get there.
Then Joakim Noah happened.
The 2009 Wildcats, conversely, were consummate over-achievers. That team was supposed to have trouble with UCLA, and most expected them to lose against Duke. Instead, they ran both of those teams off the court before facing a Pitt team that had been playing tough all season. It took an improbable inbounds play to Cunningham, who dished it to a streaking Reynolds to move on to the Final Four that year.
Perhaps, in the sense of their relative paths to the final weekend, this team can compare to Wright's other entrant. This team also ran its early opponents off the court before grinding out a victory agaisnt the 1-seed in the Elite 8.
Maybe it's a tie?
If this team keeps winning, we'll have our answer. If not, I think the balance on this 2016 team pushes it beyond Wright's other Final Four squad. This year's team has it's talent spread around differently, but it feels more like what the 2006 Wildcats could have been.