Enjoy today Villanova fans. Not just because the Wildcats have reached their first National Championship in over 30 years. Not just because this team might be playing better than any other team to wear the uniform before them. Enjoy today because now the entire country is focusing on our school's basketball team the way we have all season. Everyone's talking about Villanova, there's more content than you can attempt to consume (See Today's Arizin), and I just can't get enough of it.
But by the end of the week, like magic, it'll all go away. Win or lose, the 2016 basketball season will be over, and we'll have to wait 6 months for its return. So before the final chapter of what has certainly been one of the most thrilling seasons in team history comes to a close, here's some final thoughts for the finals:
Back in November I wrote a piece on how Villanova's Seniors had realized their full potential. Well now that applies to the entire team. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, is playing at the top of their game. But it's not just that they're making great individual plays, it's how they trust their teammates to have their backs when executing their individual talents. Phil Booth can aggressively get 5 steals against Oklahoma because he knows that he's the tip of the spear and the entire defense is behind him. I've never seen a team play so connected and confident on defense, and that confidence is leading to truly remarkable levels of efficiency on offense. It's truly beautiful basketball.
Does Philly Have Our Back?
A lot is being made of whether Philadelphia is behind a suburb school out on the Hoity-Toity Main Line, especially at the other Big 5 Schools. Many students are refusing to root for Villanova because they're a rival. In one sense, I get it. I don't want St. Joe's, Temple, or any other Nova rival to win at horse-shoes, let alone basketball. But with that being said, if anyone of them were to switch places with Nova right now, I'd be rooting for them. Three reasons why:
1) It looks better for you. This is the same reason I don't understand why fans yell "OVER-RATED" when beating a higher ranked team. You're just devaluing your own victory! It's the same concept here. All of our rivals lost to us this season, but it looks better on your team's performance if you lost to the eventual National Champion. It's just Science.
2) Who want's North Carolina to win? If you're a little school, you hate those Blue Bloods. If you're a Blue Blood, you don't want one of your peers getting a leg up.
3) We're playing again next season. Wouldn't you rather beat the reigning National Champion than just beating your rival? A Nova Championship just creates more opportunities for your team to look good if you know you have them on the schedule in 2016-17.
I think my favorite story that has come out of this Final Four run has been the adjustment in approach on team focus that Jay made from 2009. He said that then he wanted the team to take everything in and enjoy this once in a lifetime experience. But once the team's mindset went to just enjoying the event, they were never able to get back to the same level of focus that got them to Detroit. Now in Houston, the team is dialed in on what matters. You hear the phrases "humble and hungry" in every post game, and the only stats the players want to talk about are defensive stops. Kris Jenkins described it best when asked if they were enjoying their time at the Final Four, saying that their enjoyment comes from winning, and that's what their focused on.
I'm sure you've all seen by now that Kris Jenkins and his brother Nate Britt II will be playing each other in tonight's championship. If you haven't read up on it yet, please do. #FeelAllTheFeels
The Finals Narrative
Since Saturday night, I keep hearing the same question asked about the Championship game: How will Villanova be able to handle the inside scoring of North Carolina. What? I get that their biggest strength (offensive rebounding) is one of the Wildcat's biggest weaknesses and that's nothing to scoff at, but how is that the narrative?
Here's a few things that HAVE happened for Nova in the past 5 games: They proved they can shut down interior scoring teams like Kansas; They proved they can score on interior defensive teams like Miami; They proved they can do both against an elite perimeter team like Oklahoma.
Here's a few of the things that HAVEN'T happened for UNC in the past 5 games: They haven't played a Top 4 seed; They haven't shot better than 33% from 3 in more than one tournament game; They haven't played a Top 15 defense (according to KenPom).
So my question is why are we asking how the best defensive team in the tournament who hasn't allowed anyone (including 2 Top 10 offenses) to score 70 points. How about instead we ask how a team whose KenPom defensive ranking is outside the Top 20 is going to stop the most efficient offensive team in the tournament?
A lot of statistics have been thrown out there, but one that caught my eye was the "combined" stats I keep seeing about how dominant Villanova and UNC have been. I'm not saying North Carolina hasn't been winning convincingly, but the Wildcats have been holding up the lion's share of these statistics. First, the teams combined for a record 202 point margin of victory in their path to the finals. 121 of those points were Villanova's (60%). Also, the teams combined for a 61 point margin of victory in the Final Four. 44 of those points were Villanova's (72%). Again, I know North Carolina is a very talented team, but this tournament favors the hot teams that peak at the right time. That's Villanova.
Win One For Jay
Jay Wright is currently 0-3 against Roy Williams and UNC, all three losses coming in the tournament. You know the ones: The Final Four blow-out, The first round exit, and the Phantom Walk Call. UNC isn't really a rival of Villanova's, but there aren't many other team's I'd rather beat in the tournament.
There's only three things that I can be certain of right now:
1) Tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and be proud of this team. Win or lose, they're going to leave everything on the floor tonight.
2) Tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and be thankful for this team. The great memories with friends, family, and random fans I've made this season are going to last me a lifetime.
3) Tomorrow, I'm going to wake up and be happy. Win or lose, this has already been a successful season that the nine players coming back next year will be able to build on.
Oh and if we win, I won't be going to sleep until Thursday. LET'S GO NOVA!!!!