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Does Villanova now have the right formula for success?

By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer

College basketball season is over. Villanova has been crowned the new King of College Basketball for the second time in three years. “One Shining Moment” seems to be playing quite frequently these days for Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats.

Wonder what makes Villanova so special that they could win the National Championship two out of the last three years? Could it be because they have had teams filled with future NBA players? Not hardly.

Villanova has only had two players drafted since 2015 – Darren Hilliard drafted No.38 in the second round in 2015 and Josh Hart drafted No.30 in the first round in 2017. They are likely to have an additional player(s) selected in this year’s NBA draft — the leading candidate being College Player of the Year Jalen Brunson. But even if Villanova were to lose two players to the draft this year that would be a total of four players in four years. Kentucky or Duke have that many players drafted every year. So it can’t be that Villanova has overwhelming talent.

Maybe it’s because Jay Wright runs a better offensive system than other teams with more perceived talent — like a Duke or UK. Villanova runs a four out, one in motion offense that allows for a guard oriented offense, great spacing of the floor and good ball rotation that creates open perimeter shots for the four guards or drives to the basket if the defense over commits on the perimeter shooters. It’s kind of a “pick your poison” offense in that the defense either has to commit to stopping the three point shot and conceding the drive to the basket or playing off the guards to stop the drive and giving up perimeter shots.

It’s a tough position for any defense to be in if the offense has great ball handlers that can shoot the outside shot well. And Villanova usually does. They shot 40% from three point range for the 2017-2018 season. So Jay Wright’s system could be a factor.

Another factor could be that Jay Wright hasn’t recruited so-called “one and done” players. Here’s what he had to say about trying to win with first year players. “I think the reason the Dukes and Kentuckys have won it, and I really mean this, I don’t think anyone understands how difficult it is to coach freshmen in high-level games,” Wright said. “I don’t care how good they are. I don’t care if it’s LeBron. You just haven’t been expected to have the kind of detail needed to play.” 

Although complimentary of what Duke and Kentucky have done with “one and done players” — both schools combined have three titles between them in seven years — he doesn’t seem to believe the “one and done” route is the best one to take to win a National Championship.

He said this about the difficulty of winning a National Championship with players who are bound for the NBA after one season in college, “…there are only so many of those guys that are one-and-done that are capable of winning National Championships,” he said. “You can be one-and-done and be capable of having a potential great pro career, but you might not be good enough at that time to win a National Championship. Those guys have some of those guys. Duke might have some of those guys now and Kentucky maybe, too.”

So you can see from Jay Wright’s comments that he doesn’t believe the best route to winning a National Championship is through the “one-and-done” process.

He seems to profess — and practice — a methodology that requires individual sacrifice for the good of the team, attention to detail on offense and defense, giving maximum effort when players are on the floor and continuing to refine over a longer period of time a skill set that requires a player to be able to handle the ball, pass and shoot with consistent accuracy.

That means his teams are not going to be the tallest, most athletic or have the ability to jump the highest but they know how to play the game – and they play it well. That has been proven through the achievement of winning two titles in the last three years. Something that has only been accomplished three other times – Duke in 1991-1992 with Mike Krzyzewski as coach, Kentucky in 1996 & 1998 with Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith as coaches and finally by Florida in 2006 & 2007 with Billy Donovan as the coach.

If Villanova has become the dominant program in college basketball — and based on their most recent National Championships it appears that way – teams might begin to follow their lead and look to create programs that depend on upperclassmen to anchor their teams as opposed to college freshmen who are just passing through. After all, the Final Four was made up of teams that predominantly featured juniors and seniors as the lead players for Loyola Chicago, Michigan and Kansas.

So in the future don’t look for the Kentuckys and Dukes of the college basketball world to turn away any “one-and-done” players but look for them to do a better job of balancing their roster between “one-and-dones” and more upperclassmen.

It appears that John Calipari may already be doing that by adding players in the last two seasons that are ranked in the Top 50 and not as many in the Top 10. That change in philosophy could pay dividends in the form of National Championships down the road if players decide to stay an additional year or two and increase their overall basketball skill level before jumping to the NBA. Just ask Jay Wright, it seems to be working for him.

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  1. Nova has had great success in the last 3 years, but I don’t think their record over the last 9 years comes even close to UK. I’m not saying I prefer the 1 and done, but I think there is a place for it; just not an entire team built on it. I agree with Bill Self. Upper classman have to anchor your team. Pitino started doing this at UK with Mashburn.
    Cal’s problem lately, is he has not had enough great shooters that can create their own shot. He seems to prefer athletes over shooters. Athletes don’t necessary make good team players. To be successful, you must have at least 2-3 really good outside shooters and 1 or 2 players that can consistently hit the mid-range jumper. The mid-range game is a lost art in college basketball, but those shots are there against nearly any defense.
    Cal continually talked this year about getting the team to rely on each other and play team ball. When you have good upper classman, you should not have to spend your season teaching team ball, but rather how to be better with your own ability.

  2. Ditto Jay Wright. I been saying that now for a long time. OAD’s, with five of them freshmen type players generally starting, or getting the most playing time, is hurting UK right now IMO. My wish for a more experienced group of UK players may happen because I think many of these guys will return for another shot at the college crown. If this happens, UK could be a load in 2018-19 season. What I am saying is that UK, IMO, needs some good 3rd and 4th year basketball players that have been through the great college battles in order to have a better chance to win No. 9. That said, I don’t think Calipari will embrace that type system for very long though. He will go back with great effort to land top talent, and a No. 1 class every year in order to reload NBA rosters with UK OAD’s. He is on some type of mission there that transcends the conventional approach that Wright and other very good college coaches embrace. This could get real interesting.

    1. Well said LP. I think Keith’s article makes some valid points. However… at the end of the day, I still wouldn’t trade Coach Cal for anyone out there. His ability to run a clean program and continuously recruit talented players of character in today’s “look at me” world is invaluable.

      GO CATS

      1. I agree with you Norman that Calipari has to date run a clean program. That counts for a lot. I also am very impressed with the young men he has recruited and brought to UK. They all, past and present, have had good character , and seem to be fine young men.

        1. Quality of kids Cal has recruited has been outstanding for the most part

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