Programs

Blue blood? New blood? How Villanova compares to other Final Four programs

Villanova does not need to take a blood test.

The DNA of the championship is printed on the program. That’s why Villanova coach Jay Wright noticed assistant coach Mike Nardi talking to senior Collin Gillespie near the end of the Wildcats’ 50-44 win over Houston in the Elite Eight. Nardi, a former Villanova guard from 2003 to 2007, told the team’s go-to shooter to let those looks pass.

Why would Gillespie do this? It’s part of the Wildcats culture.

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“If you’re cocky and feel like you have to show what you can do, then maybe you’re not making good decisions,” Wright said. “Then a bit of intelligence. We try to teach them to be smart players and to make the right decisions at the end of games, but I think humility has to come first.”

Villanova’s evolution from a humble Big East program to a national powerhouse is impressive. The Wildcats are making their fourth Final Four appearance since 2009 and have a shot at a third national championship since 2016. Yet in this Final Four, their blue blood credentials are in question alongside North Carolina’s Duke. and Kansas.

Villanova is not a true blue blood program by the traditional standard. It’s the best new blood program.

Who are we talking about? Five programs have 16 or more Final Four appearances. North Carolina (21), UCLA (18), Duke (17), Kentucky (17) and Kansas (16) are the five true bluebloods, old money that continues to win in March. It is easier to lose membership in this club than to gain access to it.

Ask Indiana, which school would be the next bid. The Hoosiers have five national titles and eight Final Four appearances, but they haven’t won a championship since 1987. They made it to a national championship in the 21st century and haven’t made it past the Sweet 16 since.

UConn could claim four national championships in the Jim Calhoun era, but they’ve faded from national consciousness since the 2014 national title run with Kevin Ollie before returning to the Big East in 2020.

Someone else? Louisville and Syracuse have combined for 14 Final Fours and three national titles. Michigan State and Ohio State each have 10 Final Four appearances, but they have combined for three national titles. Gonzaga and Arizona have combined for six Final Fours and a national title.

Are they blue bloods? If you have to ask, the answer is “No”.

That leaves Villanova; a kind of bridge between those who seek to become members and those who will never leave the club. And the Wildcats are at their peak with Wright, who despite that success has maintained the happy-to-be-there vibe.

“It’s great to be back in the Final Four,” Wright said. “It never gets old. It’s every college basketball player’s and coach’s dream. It’s the ultimate. We’re going to enjoy it.”

It has not always been so for the program. The 1971 Final Four appearance was cancelled. The 1985 national championship run was a Cinderella story with coach Rollie Massimino as the No. 8 seed against No. 1 Georgetown. Villanova has seven Final Fours all-time if 1971 is included, which is not in the same neighborhood as the college basketball royals.

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Georgetown and Syracuse were the Big East bluebloods in the 1980s. UConn took over in the 1990s, and the 2000s were wide open in the expanded conference. Wright changed all that, especially in the last 10 years. Since 2012-13:

– Villanova has won seven Big East Regular Season Championships and five Big East Tournaments.

– The Wildcats are 22-5 with a .815 winning percentage in the NCAA Tournament. That’s more wins than North Carolina (21-6), Duke (19-5) and Kansas (18-7) in the same streak.

–The Wildcats are 36-3 in Big 5 play, Philadelphia’s informal neighborhood battle of Villanova, Temple, La Salle, Penn and St. Joseph’s. They’ve lost one Big 5 game in nine years.

Now the opportunity is there. Wright could win a third national championship as a coach, which would break the tie with Rick Pitino as an active leader when Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, who has five, retires in days.

Villanova could also join the club by four or more domestic championships.

Most national men’s basketball titles

THE SCHOOL SECURITIES
UCLA 11
Kentucky 8
duke 6
North Carolina 6
Indiana 5
UConn 4

It could be more than that. The North Carolina-Duke rivalry enters a new chapter with Hubert Davis and Jon Scheyer. UCLA hasn’t won a national championship in a quarter century. Kentucky hasn’t won it all since 2012. Kansas hasn’t won it all since 2008.

Villanova could win three titles in seven years. UCLA and Kentucky are the only other programs to do so. Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels are the seniors with this chance, and it’s something they don’t take for granted.

“I had front row tickets to some of the greatest Villanova basketball players to ever wear the jersey,” Samuels said. “You take all of those experiences with you, and you try to emulate them and be them and do the things that they do and put in the work the way they do, and just pray that it works for you.”

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Samuels continues to use the phrase “full circle” to describe the experience, which comes with a point of view that touches on those principles that Wright relies on. Humility and intelligence will always be part of that process at a Catholic university, and it starts with Wright.

Check blood work if you must.

By all accounts, it’s pretty blue.