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.