5 Reasons You Should Root for Villanova in the NCAA Tournament
I like Villanova’s basketball team.
I realize this is not a popular opinion for all basketball fans in Philly. Villanova is the Duke of the local basketball scene: It’s an obnoxious private school with smart kids, plus it seems to win all the time. It’s in the suburbs. Its two big local rivals (Temple and St. Joe’s) hated Villanova a ton even before the Wildcats’ recent dominance of the Big 5.
But I like the Wildcats. They’ve played good, entertaining basketball since Jay Wright became coach in 2001. He’s been rumored to be taking better jobs — sometimes, even with the Sixers – but has stayed with the Wildcats. They’ve been a tournament team all but one year since the 2004-05 season. For the last decade, Villanova has been the class of Philadelphia basketball — even if they are in the suburbs.
Even the program’s scandals are benign now. Twelve years ago, Villanova suspended 12 players for using a Villanova phone code to make unauthorized calls. Can you even imagine this type of scandal today, with cell phones and Skype?
With this in mind, here are five reasons to root for Villanova this tournament.
1. Hate college hoops? ’Nova plays like a pro team
Are you one of the many who has tuned out college basketball recently due to poor play, low scoring and the high number of timeouts? Well, Villanova scores at a clip that seems more like a pro team. Despite an average tempo — 185th of 351 Division I teams — the Wildcats averaged 76.3 points per game this year. They ranked 21st in the nation. Villanova’s offense is free-flowing and creative; it plays mostly man-to-man defense. They’re fun to watch.
2. Love college hoops? Nova plays a college game, too
But perhaps you are a fan of the college game, despite Jay Bilas’ pronouncement of “Who could defend what we’re seeing right now?” Well, Villanova had assists on 62.8 percent of its buckets this year — 14th in the nation. No one averages more than 15 points a game; six players average more than 9 a contest. This is not a team that plays isolation basketball. Darrun Hilliard II, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis, JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu (the aforementioned six) could probably all score more if left on their own, but they move the ball around instead.
3. They are a legitimate national title contender
As a Penn grad, sure, I’ve experienced a bit of schadenfreude when Villanova has been bounced twice as a two seed in recent years. But it’s more disappointment: Because those Villanova teams were good! It would have been great to see them continue to play. But do you know what the ultimate schadenfreude is? If Kentucky makes it all the way to the national championship game and then loses to a Catholic school just outside Philly. Ken Pomeroy’s odds give them a 10 percent chance of winning it all, fourth best. Even the president — who presumably has inside basketball info, as he has access to all our emails — picked Villanova for the national title game. “I was thinking he was a pretty smart guy,” Wright said.
4. John Ermilio’s dancing
I attended a couple Villanova basketball games this season, and at each one an older fan got on the jumbotron and did a dance. And then Villanova went on an insane run in the game. Against Marquette, Villanova’s run after John Ermilio appeared on the screen was 24-4.
I know what you’re saying: I’d like to watch an eight-minute interview with this man.
Well, aren’t you lucky?
5. Philly basketball pride
I still love watching the Sixers. I think Temple got screwed out of an NCAA bid this year. I like Hagan Arena and The Palestra and the Liacouras Center and the DAC and even Tom Gola Arena, where the entrance is on the baseline like in a high school gym. But, man, the best college basketball game I saw in person in Philadelphia this year was Harvard-Yale last Saturday. This town, with a great basketball tradition, needs something. I know Villanova is in the suburbs and I know some of you hate them a lot. But this March I’ll be pulling for them.
And, if they lose, I can go right back to hating Nova and being happy about it. You see how much fun the NCAA tournament can be?
Follow @dhm on Twitter.