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Friday, March 30, 2018

Villanova a modern blue blood for college basketball

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) slaps hands with Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) slaps hands with Villanova guard Phil Booth (5) during a practice on Friday, March 30, 2018 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

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San Antonio — College basketball’s blue bloods might have to make room for a new contemporary.

Although programs such as Kansas, Duke, North Carolina and Kentucky tend to be the first cited among the sport’s elite, over the past five seasons few teams have matched the consistent success of Villanova.

Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, the Wildcats are 163-21 with a national championship and, now, a second Final Four appearance.

Villanova’s Saturday night opponent at the Alamodome, Kansas, can’t claim as much prosperity during that time frame. The Jayhawks are 147-36 and, of course, haven’t reached the final and grandest stage of the NCAA Tournament since 2012.

So it should come as no surprise that coach Bill Self, over the course of the past several days, has praised Villanova and his counterpart Jay Wright for the upward trajectory of the Big East’s marquee program.

“Well, I think that Jay's always been a terrific coach. I mean, there's no doubt about that. But in the last five years they've lost 21 games. That's 4.2 a year. I mean, think about that. And think about the league they play in and think about the nonconference schedule,” Self marveled. “So certainly not only have they recruited well, that also means they have depth. That also means that the culture is great.”

As Self pointed out, the Wildcats (34-4 this season) find ways to win games they shouldn’t, and/or close games. “And Jay and his staff have figured out how to do that.”

With standout juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges making their second trip to the Final Four in three seasons, they have been on the ground floor of taking an already-renowned program — six Final Four appearances and two national titles — to powerhouse status.

“It's been fun,” said Brunson, the AP Player of the Year and Oscar Robertson Trophy winner. “I think the outside gets the perception that we're just so machined and we're so robotic and we don't have any emotion. This is fun. This is really fun to be a part of. I love playing with my teammates. I love being a part of this program.”

Bridges hesitated to give Brunson and himself too much credit for propelling Villanova to this level.

“It started a while ago. It started with the players that came before us,” Bridges began, before rattling off the names of various standouts from Wright’s 17 seasons, and even earlier — Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Kerry Kittles.

Bridges’ historical Villanova shoutouts weren’t complete without a nod to the famous 1985 national champions and head coach Rollie Massimino, who spent time around the current team’s upperclassmen before he died in 2017.

“All of them guys built this,” Bridges said. “We’re just blessed to be in this position, and we play for them.”

Ask Villanova redshirt freshman Omari Spellman if he and his teammates are forcing the rest of the college basketball universe to recognize the Wildcats as royalty, along with KU, Duke, UNC and UK, and he will smirk.

“I’ll leave that for you guys to decide. To us it’s all about competing and trying to be the best us we can be. I wouldn’t say we lack national attention,” Spellman said. “But I can see how you would say those other schools get more. But we just try to compete. We don’t let that affect us at all.”

Wright’s recruiting and coaching, Bridges offered, helped Villanova make a noticeable leap these past few seasons.

“I feel like we’re contenders every year and we should be up there, by just how great the program is,” Bridges said.

With consistency comes useful firsthand experience for Villanova’s leaders. Although Brunson and Bridges were freshman role-players when the Wildcats beat Kansas in the Elite Eight and UNC in the national title game, in 2016, their presence this year, as well as that of junior guard Phil Booth, has tied the two differently comprised rosters together.

“To get this far,” Wright said, “all the teams that are here, you have a laser focus, you have an ability to prepare for different opponents. If you don't, someone's going to catch you along the way. And it really has to be at a high level. And we've had some really good teams and sometimes you just can't get to that level at this time of year. And this group reminds me of our group in '16 in that way. And I feel like we're getting better as the season goes on, even at this time of year. And that's something that's similar to our team in '16.”

FINAL FOUR TEAMS — PAST 5 YEARS

2014: Connecticut (champion), Florida, Wisconsin, Kentucky

2015: Duke (champion), Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan State

2016: Villanova (champion), North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse

2017: North Carolina (champion), Gonzaga, Oregon, South Carolina

2018: Villanova, Kansas, Michigan, Loyola-Chicago

VILLANOVA LEADING SCORERS

• Jalen Brunson, jr., G — 19.2 points, 41.4 percent on 3-pointers

• Mikal Bridges, jr., G/F — 17.8 points, 43.6 percent on 3-pointers

• Donte DiVincenzo, soph., G — 12.9 points, 38.5 percent on 3-pointers

• Omari Spellman, R-fr., F — 10.9 points, 44.6 percent on 3-pointers

• Eric Paschall, jr., F — 10.3 points, 33.3 percent on 3-pointers

• Phil Booth, jr., G — 10.3 points, 39 percent on 3-pointers

Comments

Drew Doerfler 1 year, 8 months ago

i'm getting really tired of writers throwing around the word blue-blood and adding programs for click bait.....you can't just 'become' a blueblood because you have an excellent program for the last decade....the entire meaning of blue-blood is the long history of excellence of these programs dating back to the beginning of basketball.....there are 4 to 5 bluebloods....that is all there is.....that is all there will ever be. Villanova is a great program. Probably better than KU in the last 5 years, but that doesn't make them a blue-blood or even in the fringes of blue-blood.....venting done....;)

Marius Rowlanski 1 year, 8 months ago

Wasn't that long ago when UConn was the "new" blue blood program. One of the key ingredients in being a Blue Blood program is having been relevant over a long period of time.

Pretty sure that the only decade that KU did not get to the Final 4 was the 60's.

Brad Watson 1 year, 8 months ago

Blue Bloods are tradition rich for a long period of time .......you need to have a consistent program for most of your history....

Dirk Medema 1 year, 8 months ago

Or at least longer than one or two coaches/players.

I don't think Duke was much before Coach K but he's been there long enough and they had some semblance of success prior to him to count. As Marius comments tho, it's got to be more than the latest fad.

Is WSU also a blue blood?

Len Shaffer 1 year, 8 months ago

I agree with Drew and Brad, although I will say that there's been at least one opening in recent years. Indiana used to be a blue blood but hasn't been there for a long time, and I would say that UCLA is teetering as well.

One other thing: the headline refers to a "modern blue blood," which somewhat justifies the article, although it's also kind of an oxymoron ...

Drew Doerfler 1 year, 8 months ago

it's a huge oxymoron....kind of like saying new old money

Mike Greer 1 year, 8 months ago

Blue Blood is akin to "old money" while modern blue blood is new money. It's like comparing the Vanderbilt family to Bill Gates.

Bryce Landon 1 year, 8 months ago

I was reading a little of Villanova's history on Wikipedia, and to me, they have many of the qualifications of a blue blood. They were in the very first Final Four in 1939, they have six Final Four appearances (although one was vacated), they have two NCAA titles, which is more than most schools, and they have been a fixture in the NCAA Tournament for many years. So I don't have a problem with anyone who might consider the Wildcats a blue blood in the making.

Dave Miller 1 year, 8 months ago

Say what you will about the "blue blood" programs. Indiana, UCLA, North Carolina, Kentucky... All I know is this: Kansas is the bluest of the blue bloods. KU's is a standard of history, tradition, and excellence bar none. No other program comes close. From Dr. Naismith to Bill Self, it is unequaled by any other program. College basketball traces it roots to the University of Kansas. It's been said it all "goes through Lawrence"... I disagree. It begins in Lawrence. Some might call this "arrogance". I call it simple fact and pride. ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK !!!!

Buffalo Lark 1 year, 8 months ago

Blue Blood means more than even a decade of success (and it's questionable they have that). Didn't they miss the tourney in 2012? Talk about sensational click-bait...

Mike Greer 1 year, 8 months ago

Bryce, I don't count vacated appearances, so Nova is at five. That's tied with schools like Oklahoma, Illinois, Houston, Georgetown and behind such as Oklahoma State, Arkansas, and Cincinnati and only one ahead of Kansas State. KU is fifth overall with fifteen final four appearances. They have 10 fewer tournament appearances than KU, who is tied for third with 47.

Nova is a good program, don't get me wrong, but blue blood, as if that means anything. To the old money, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg will always be new money, and it's just not the same.

Bill Corey 1 year, 8 months ago

This was posted a few years ago. Don't remember who.....

"There are 3 Blue Bloods Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky

There are 2 Blue Bloods Emeritus Indiana, UCLA

There are 4 Blue Blood Nouveau Riche Duke (let's see what they do Post-Coach K), UConn, Louisville, Michigan State"

Perhaps Villanova belongs in Nouveau Riche?

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