It wasn’t a good game, but it was a virtuoso, dominant and incredible performance by No. 2-seeded Villanova. It wasn’t fun to watch, but it was a fun 95-51 victory for the Wildcats. This was such a bad and ugly blowout that the toughest kids from the Philadelphia area played hard, tough and smart, just like Philly fans demand, as it is a reflection of how the city sees itself.
It turns out, Villanova is unquestionably having a magical NCAA tournament run. The basketball world knows the 2016 Wildcats remind us of familiar stories, their fans began to wonder, and some have come to the realization that Villanova has a great chance of winning a national championship. On a night when thousands of Pennsylvanians cheered loudly for a bunch of disciplined and strong-minded guys, the Wildcats destroyed the Sooners by 44. This was historic because, though it might have been pedestrian and lopsided, it was the largest margin of victory in any national semifinals.
It’s official. The Wildcats are heading to the national championship game for the first time in 31 years. The statement was made by Villanova in Saturday night’s Final Four at NRG Stadium. It’s kind of an unimaginable leap that would make everybody go crazy about a school as dominant as any team in program history. Seriously, no one knows what to make of a statement-made Final Four victory, except embrace the moment. And maybe — just maybe — it is Villanova’s to win. Will the Wildcats win it all? If they keep playing like this, you bet they will.
This isn’t what anyone expected. This is, amazingly, a stunning victory. Nobody could’ve imagined this to be possible, and because the win is shocking to many of us watching a tournament that features no giant killers, no Cinderellas and no sleepers, the 2016 Villanova team has already drawn comparisons to the 1985 underdogs that stunned the world in one of the most improbable upsets over Georgetown. This year’s victory, after winning the Final Four, not only resembles the ’85 squad but also resonates like the one before them.
The night certainly began in their favor. With a close, tight game that saw nine lead changes in the first half, Villanova went on a 12-0 run that included five points from Kris Jenkins, and the Wildcats’ momentum only built. They extended their lead quickly to 11 points, in large part because of their red-hot shooting, and Josh Hart was tremendous for Villanova, scoring 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists. It was so ugly and horrendous that Oklahoma star Buddy Hield and his teammates watched from the bench in disbelief, mostly due to the number of turnovers forced by the Wildcats, which led to easy buckets in transition.
Granted, Villanova can move the ball the other way and have the playmakers to get it done in transition and finish at the rim. It’s really not hard to believe the Wildcats will beat whomever they play when they’ve capitalized on the Sooners mistakes. It obviously didn’t matter much that Oklahoma crushed them 78-55 when these two teams met at a neutral site game in Hawaii earlier in the season. Nobody, I mean, nobody, saw this coming. Of course, March Madness is notoriously unpredictable, and top-seeded schools from power conferences are guaranteed a promising trip to the Final Four. But no one ever could’ve imagined Villanova shooting 71.4 percent from the field and 61.1 percent from three-point range. It was the second-best field goal percentage of the men’s Final Four, trailing only the 78.6 percent that Villanova shot to beat Georgetown in stunning fashion in the 1985 title game.
The Wildcats, who had been red hot for much of the game, made a bevy of shots to produce 25 straight points during a 33-4 run that put the game away, while the Sooners went scoreless for a span of 6:02. The way Hield had been shooting the ball effectively he could’ve made it fun and dramatic until the closing minutes, in a game that many thought would be competitive and close. Those dreams never came to fruition, and instead Hield missed seven threes. Even though he finished 4 of 12 from the field, 1 of 8 from treyland, and with just nine points, Hield will leave the game as one of the generation’s best, and as a future lottery pick, he will continue to grow. For only the second time all season long, he was held to single digits.
Much credit, of course, goes to Villanova defense. Those who questioned Rollie Massimino protege Jay Wright, after going 21-27 in the Big East through three seasons as Villanova’s coach, can only give him credit after having won three straight Big East titles, now one win shy of a national championship. The win also served as a timely reminder of just how good of a teacher he is when it comes to fundamentals. Wright, who was raised 30 miles from the campus and who was an assistant at Villanova from 1987 to 1992, restored the basketball program to national prominence.
All of this brings them back to the ‘85 team, brings them back to the stature of an iconic and legendary coach, and brings them back to the players who pulled off one of biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history.
Just like what happened in ’85, this Villanova team just might win it all.