Why You Should Root for Villanova This Weekend
A local sports team is getting close to a championship, and lots of you aren’t happy about it.
First, the details: The Villanova Wildcats are two games from the national championship. They rolled through the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, then edged past Kansas in the South Regional final. Fans of the Wildcats are pretty excited. ’Nova is favored in tomorrow night’s Final Four game against Oklahoma (Editor’s Note: Which they’ve since won in record-setting fashion), and the Wildcats have a pretty good shot to win it all.
Now, the denouement: You may not like Villanova. Anti-Villanova sentiment is expressed in various ways, but it’s generally about how the school is actually in the suburbs, and it’s full of rich kids. “The school doesn’t represent Philadelphia,” you might say, “and we shouldn’t root for its sports teams.”
The media has jumped on this. The 700 Level did a video asking Temple and St. Joe’s kids if they’d root for Villanova. Most people weren’t fans of the idea. The site’s Evster, who played high school ball with Kobe at Lower Merion, made a very funny video about why you should root for them. PhillyVoice.com has jumped ahead of the game and declared that Philadelphia shouldn’t host a hypothetical Villanova parade. (If they win, the city whose most famous parade is for drunken guys in dresses and that threw a parade for our fourth-place Little League team will absolutely throw a parade for Villanova.)
I get the anti-Villanova sentiment, in one sense. The school is in the suburbs. But, as the Evster says in his video, Villanova is certainly in the Philadelphia area. Don’t you like things in the Philadelphia area? I go visit my friends in the suburbs. I shop in Cherry Hill and King of Prussia. The soccer team in Delco is called the Philadelphia Union and not the Chester Cheetahs. Why are we not allowed to root for a team that’s a bit outside the city? Unless you literally never leave Philadelphia, this seems like a silly reason.
And you don’t need to root for Villanova, the school. You just need to root for Villanova, the basketball team. Surely the players on Philly’s other basketball teams — who know the Villanova players from Big 5 competition, summer leagues and probably back in high school — are rooting for them this weekend, too.
Villanova’s basketball team is great. It respects Philadelphia basketball tradition and has continued to play a full Big 5 schedule since the 1999 season. Its coach, Jay Wright, is a cool guy who dresses impeccably and probably could have left the school for a “better” job years ago. And his program is clean; the only recent scandal under Wright involved phone cards. Phone cards!
The Villanova player who gets the most attention is Ryan Arcidiacono. He’s a senior captain who spurned other offers to go to ’Nova. He went to Neshaminy High School. Neshaminy is in Lower Bucks County, this weird, intriguing mix of Northeast Philly and the middle-of-nowhere. Arcidiacono probably spent his free time sneaking into R-rated movies at the Neshaminy Mall just like me and thousands of other Philly and Lower Bucks County have for decades. He might not be from the city proper, but Arcidiacono is no doubt a Philly guy.
And Villanova is fun to watch! The Wildcats shoot a ton of threes, they pass the ball a lot, and they play a solid defense that doesn’t let their opponents do much of either. They essentially play an NBA-style game without NBA players. They go all out on every possession. “They have a way,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli told the Daily News last month. “Forget about style of play, the four (guards) out or the (three-pointers). It’s the culture, the fierceness with which they compete. And it’s on every single possession. They show up every night. They must show up every day in practice. I’ve never been there, but they truly do have the intangibles that are completely off the charts.”
Who would you rather see win the national championship? A team of bluechip recruits from all over the country, or a roster that’s almost wholly comprised of recruits from the Northeast United States?
Look, there are valid reasons to root against Villanova. If you’re a superfan of another Big 5 school — be prepared to back this up with season ticket documentation or a quiz on the starting five of the 1993 Temple Owls that got jobbed by the refs in the regional final — you can feel free to root against them. But a Villanova national championship would have added benefits even for the haters: Imagine how much fun next season’s games against the reigning national champion would be. The rollouts would be awesome.
Another oft-mentioned reason for Villanova hate is the school was responsible for the near-breakup of the Big 5, and the end to the round robin series played entirely at The Palestra. That’s a good reason, and if you want to use Rollie Massamino’s name like an expletive for what he did, then go ahead. But don’t forget that Temple president Peter Liacouras was a part of that, too, and the Big 5 has played a full round robin (albeit not at the Palestra) since the 1999 season. The last time all the Big 5 schools didn’t play each other — sorry, Drexel! — people were starting to get worried about the Y2K bug.
This city is starved for good basketball. The Sixers are in a rebuilding process with no end in sight. They have lost 66 games this season. Villanova has lost 66 games since 2010. If you like basketball, you almost have to root for Villanova if you’re a basketball fan from the area.
Or, you know, don’t. Pout around when Villanova cuts down the nets in Houston on Monday night. The rest of us will be having fun.
Follow @dhm on Twitter.