NCAA

Forget Cinderella: The 2016 Villanova team is an all-time great

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Forget Cinderella: The 2016 Villanova team is an all-time great

This wasn’t a magical run. There was nothing magical about it.

This was simply one of the best basketball teams we’ve ever seen. And calling it a magical or surprising or lightning in a bottle or anything of the sort is doing a disservice to a team that simply played better basketball than anybody else in the country.

Because it’s not a BCS football powerhouse, because it doesn’t have an NBA lottery pick, because it doesn’t have an All-American on the roster or anybody even averaging more than 15 points per game, there’s a tendency to classify this Villanova team as some sort of surprise team, an overachiever, a Cinderella team that defied all the odds.

That might fit some peoples’ narrative of what Villanova’s winning the national title has to be.

But Villanova’s run through the NCAA Tournament wasn’t a fluke, and it wasn’t magical, and it wasn’t a Cinderella story.

The Wildcats may be a different sort of all-time great team, built on fearless defense, astonishing shooting, unflinching togetherness and unfailing unselfishness instead of an army of McDonald’s All-Americans.

But by any definition, they are one of the most gifted, most talented, most dominating national champions ever assembled. And to characterize them any other way is to not really grasp the brilliance of this group of guys.

Look at the route they took. After the dispatching of UNC Asheville by 30 points, Villanova did this:

• Beat an Iowa team ranked as high as No. 3 in the country this year by 19 points. 

• Beat a Miami team ranked No. 10 by 23 points. 

• Beat No. 1 Kansas after trailing by five with eight minutes to go, holding the Jayhawks to a season-low 59 points. 

• Beat No. 7 Oklahoma by 44 in the most lopsided win in Final Four history. 

• Beat No. 3 North Carolina for the national title after trailing by seven early in the second half.

Miami was a 3-seed, Oklahoma a 2-seed and North Carolina and Kansas 1-seeds.

Villanova thus became the first school in 31 years — yes, since the 1985 Villanova Wildcats — to not only beat four top-three seeds on the way to a national title but to also beat four straight opponents ranked in the top 10.

And the Wildcats won their six tournament games against this minefield of opponents by 20.7 points per game, the second-biggest average margin ever by a team in the Field of 64 Era (behind Kentucky’s 21.5 in 1996) and the third-largest margin since 1969.

How do we define greatness?

Let’s start with Villanova’s historic defensive run in the tournament.

Villanova’s six NCAA opponents averaged a composite 79.3 points per game during the regular season. They scored 62.8 facing 'Nova — so they averaged 17 fewer points per game against Villanova than they had the rest of the year.

Here’s the difference game-by-game:

• UNC Asheville 76–56

• Iowa 78–68

• Miami 76–69

• Kansas 82-59

• Oklahoma 81-51

• North Carolina 83-74

Villanova became the first team in NCAA Tournament history to beat two opponents seeded third or higher by 20 or more points.

The Wildcats are also only the seventh team to beat two No. 1 seeds on the way to winning the national title, joining NC State in 1983, Villanova in 1985, Arizona in 1997, Syracuse in 2003 and Kansas in 2008.

Villanova faced some of the nation’s top scorers along the way. Shut 'em down.

Iowa’s Peter Jok averaged 16.2. He scored 11.

Perry Ellis of Kansas averaged 17.2. He scored five.

Buddy Hield of Oklahoma averaged 25.4. He scored nine.

Night after night, Villanova neutralized its opponent’s top scorer, leaving those teams searching for points and making them play in ways they weren’t used to.

Villanova was just as off the charts offensively as defensively.

In their six tournament games, they shot 50 percent from three-point range, 58 percent from the field and 81 percent from the foul line.

In the Final Four, they shot 59 percent from three and 65 percent from the field. 

Let’s go to the record book:

Villanova set a record for most accurate shooting ever in the Final Four, set a record for best three-point shooting by a team playing at least four games in the NCAA Tournament, set another record for highest shooting percentage in the entire tournament by a team reaching the Final Four, posted the third-best three-point shooting in Final Four history and the third-best three-point shooting in tournament history. 

And that’s only a fraction of the record book the Wildcats rewrote.

The 2016 Villanova Wildcats will never be considered by outsiders as one of the greatest teams ever because they don’t have a marquee superstar, because they had five losses during the regular season and because, frankly, they don’t have the national name recognition of a Duke, Kentucky or North Carolina.

But those five losses, if anything, should show people just how far this team came from the regular season to the tournament. And isn’t that what being a great team is all about? Improving constantly to the point where nobody can beat you? A 67-point reversal against Oklahoma shows just how far this team came from early in the season till late.

All five losses were respectable. Three were to top-10 teams, another to a 24-win Providence team ranked as high as eighth this year and finally — by two points — to a 25-win Seton Hall team that played brilliant in the Big East Tournament.

This Villanova team achieved things nobody else has ever done. Blowouts wins over high seeds. Historic shooting. Huge margins of victory. Record-setting defense. Second-half comebacks from five- and seven-point deficits against a couple No. 1 seeds.

And an unbelievably dramatic ending.

If you want a group of kids that played tough and smart, that never stopped hustling, that focused solely on team goals and was willing to sacrifice everything to achieve them, this is the team for you.

This group — Ryan Arcidiacono, Josh Hart, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins and the rest — is one of the greatest college basketball teams ever assembled. 

If you prefer teams loaded with lottery picks, future NBA superstars, All-America picks and 20-point scorers, there are teams out there for you.

They just didn’t have a parade Friday.

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

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NBC Sports

Sports Uncovered Podcast: How to listen to episode on Oregon football's uniform revolution

Forget about Chip Kelly for a second: When you think of the University of Oregon, you probably think of their uniforms.

Each season, the Ducks push jersey and helmet designs to new heights, and their trailblazing influence has trickled down throughout college athletics. It all started in the 1990s, when Oregon decided to get crazy - and it worked.

In the second episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast series, NBC Sports Northwest takes a deep dive into how Oregon sparked a fashion transformation across college football with a mascot change, and with unique Nike uniforms that helped push the program into the national college football coversation.

The episode features in-depth interviews with former Oregon football head coach Mike Bellotti, former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, and more.

The episode releases Thursday, June 11. You can listen to this episode and the entire "Sports Uncovered" series by subscribing for free wherever you listen to podcasts.

To catch every episode, be sure to subscribe to "Sports Uncovered" and have every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is available on the MyTeams app and on every major podcasting platform: Apple, Google Podcast, iHeart, Stitcher, Spotify, and TuneIn

Listen and subscribe to the "Sports Uncovered" podcast:

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

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USA Today Images

Jay Wright talks Saddiq Bey, missing March Madness, Phillies

It's been 12 days since Villanova's season ended abruptly due to the coronavirus crisis. Jay Wright held a video conference on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics. 

Here are the major takeaways from Wright's session with the media.  

This March is different

Villanova missed out on opportunities to win a fourth straight Big East Tournament and participate in the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Wildcats won eight of their final nine games to clinch a share of the Big East regular season title. Not having a chance to shine in the postseason stings. 

"Missing the NCAA Tournament is obviously tough for our guys," Wright said. "We felt like we were playing great basketball, coming on strong. I always say we want to play our best basketball at the end of the year, and I think we were doing that. It is what it is, our guys get it. 

"It's a great example of our mantra 'attitude'. We try to teach our guys that you don't have control over what happens in life. What you do have control of is your response to what happens to you. 

"I don't know if there's even been a March where I wasn't either in (the NCAA Tournament), watching it or recruiting during it. I'm testing myself on what else is there in me? Being a better father, being a better husband. Spending more time with the kids, watching more movies, reading more, trying to be more worldly. I'm not very good at it but I'm trying."

Will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA? 

Arguably the biggest question concerning Wright's team heading into the offseason is will Saddiq Bey leave for the NBA or will he return for his junior season at Villanova? Wright mentioned that Bey was especially disappointed when this season was cut short. He realizes that he has a big decision to make on his future. Wright discussed Bey's future plans as well as freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is also considered an NBA prospect. 

"The NBA is still on hold," Wright said. "They don't have a plan yet for what they're going to do with the pre-draft process or the draft yet. Saddiq and Jeremiah probably both will go through that process when we find out what it is. They're waiting on us for information, should they start working out? We're trying to get them as much information as possible. 

"If we were in a normal timeline, they would both go through the process. As we learn what the NBA is going to do there are so many possibilities. Just to take it to an extreme, there's a possibility they might not have a pre-draft process and just have the draft with no workouts, using the evaluations they had during the season. 

"We're communicating with both of them daily. Saddiq is having a tough time trying to find a place to work out in [his hometown] Washington D.C. He just got a gym to get into so he can shoot, he can't find a gym to get into to lift. Jeremiah is trying to find a place around here to get into to shoot."

2020 Summer Olympics postponed

Wright was supposed to spend a portion of his summer as an assistant coach for the U.S. Olympic men's basketball team in Tokyo. But with this week's announcement that the Olympics are postponed, his plans have changed. 

"It's the right decision," Wright said. "I feel bad for all of those athletes that it's once in a lifetime experience. I really feel bad for them. For basketball guys it's not as difficult. I talked with [U.S. head coach Greg Popovich] yesterday. It's postponed, obviously not cancelled, postponed until some time next spring or summer. There's a lot of questions there. They could do it late spring, when you might not have NBA players. If they did it in the summer maybe you do have NBA players. We have to wait for the IOC to make those decisions. 

"For us personally (at Villanova), it's kind of crazy because we thought we came up with this great plan. I was going to have to leave our offseason program for the Olympics. We had a plan to work around that, and now it doesn't matter. We'll be here in June and July. Now we don't even know if the players will be here. We worked so hard to put this plan in place for me being away and now it doesn't even matter."

Phillies season on hold

A Bucks County native, Wright is a huge Philadelphia sports fan. He had Phillies season tickets as a kid and is a regular at Citizens Bank Park during the summer months. Like all Phillies fans, he's disappointed the baseball season isn't starting this week.

"The end of the basketball season was always sobering," Wright said. "But what always saved us was the start of the Phillies. Opening Day and the start of baseball season in our family is a big deal. 

"We watch the spring training games, we'll even joke, 'Who do the Phillies play tonight?' It's really surreal. Spring time without baseball, especially the Phillies, is bizarre. It's really the way myself and my family get ourselves out of basketball mode. We go to Opening Day, we go to the Phillies games, we love 'Bark in the Park', we always bring the dogs. We're really going to miss it."

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