Villanova Could Win Another National Title This Season
It looked like Temple might make a game of it.
Four minutes into the second half on Tuesday night, the Owls trailed by 10. But they were hanging with Villanova — the second straight city team to do so, after La Salle did the same a week previously. Perhaps they’d make a run.
Spoiler: They didn’t. A 10-point Villanova lead four minutes into the second half quickly became a 22-point Villanova lead eight minutes in. By the end of the night, the number-one team in the country had won its 17th-straight game overall and finished 4-0 in the Big 5 for the fourth straight season. The final score was 78-57. Villanova’s seniors are the first-ever in Philadelphia history to go 16-0 in the Big 5.
Villanova is good again. The Wildcats are now 11-0, ranked number one in the country, and sit at first or second in most ranking systems. They might actually win the national championship again this season.
And why not? Villanova lost only Ryan Arcidiacono (now in the D-League) and Daniel Ochefu (with the Wizards) from last year’s national championship-winning team, and Josh Hart has so far been the best player in college basketball. He’s atop Ken Pomeroy’s Player of the Year Standings by a wide margin; in Saturday’s comeback win over Notre Dame, Hart scored 37 points on 10-of-14 shooting, made all 14 of his free throws, and pulled down 11 rebounds.
Tuesday night, Hart had 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting. His effective field goal percentage, which weights three-pointers more than twos, is 65.4 percent — 65th in the nation despite taking a little more than a quarter of Villanova’s shots this season. Even though he may not get the attention other players do, Hart is certainly the best player in the country right now.
Hart’s teammates are making sure the Wildcats aren’t a one-player team, though. Kris Jenkins, who hit the game-winning shot in the national final last year, is shooting threes at a 44 percent clip. Jalen Brunson, a sophomore who is the son of Rick, is just behind him at 43 percent. Mikal Bridges, a sophomore being worked into the lineup, is picking up some of Ochefu’s slack inside. Ditto senior Darryl Reynolds. Eric Paschall, a transfer from Fordham, has looked solid in about 20 minutes a game. The Wildcats hope to get Phil Booth, who actually led all scorers in the title game, back from injury sometime this winter.
Basically, they’re all lined up for another run deep into March this season. They could be the first team to repeat as national champions since Florida in 2007. This time last year Villanova was seen as a perennial disappointment come tournament time. Now they look like part of the college basketball elite.