It’s so easy to take things for granted at times. Such is the byproduct of the sustained excellence to which Villanova has treated its fans in the Jay Wright era, which began 20 years ago and has produced two national titles and seven Sweet 16 appearances.
The Wildcats have made the NCAA Tournament in 14 of the past 15 seasons with Wright as head coach, including the last seven. They’re 16-2 in their last 18 NCAA Tournament games, while winning two national championships (2016, 2018).
Excellence is expected at Villanova — much the way it is with the NFL’s Patriots, and the job Bill Belichick has done with New England is often overlooked because of the high standard he has set.
An argument should be made that this is one of the best — if not the best — coaching jobs Wright has done since he was hired by Villanova in 2001.
Wright lost arguably his most important player, senior point guard Collin Gillespie, to a torn MCL in his left knee on the eve of the Big East Tournament. Gillespie was a linchpin to the Wildcats’ offense, averaging 14 points and 4.6 assists.
Just four days after Gillespie was lost for the season, Justin Moore, Villanova’s sophomore guard who averages 12.8 points per game, suffered a badly sprained ankle and was doubtful for the Big East Tournament.
He ended up playing in the conference tournament, which lasted only one game for the Wildcats before they were bounced in the first round by Georgetown.
Earlier this year, Villanova senior forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who like Gillespie is a team captain, had season-ending surgery to repair a tibial stress fracture in his left leg.
Injuries happen in sports. Wright is hardly the only coach forced to deal with losing a key player or two.
The difference is how those coaches respond, how they manipulate other players to compensate for the loss of a key teammate. It’s not as simple as plugging different players into new roles. It’s about making them believe, collectively, that it’s going to work.
Wright has not only done that, but he has done it during the most critical time of year, a time when if you lose one game, your season is over.
“I think he’s done a tremendous job of adapting,’’ Villanova senior forward Jermaine Samuels said. “That’s definitely not an easy situation — especially Collin going down, one of our main guys. But [Wright] went back to the drawing board [with] the entire coaching staff and tried to make things as simple as possible for us.’’
Listening to the college basketball analysts leading into this NCAA Tournament, Villanova was the most popular high seed predicted to be upset in the first round against 12th-seeded Winthrop, which had lost only one game all year.
With murmurs of a potential early exit and even lowered expectations from their own fans, the Wildcats didn’t flinch in the opening round, winning 73-63.
Then came North Texas, which had become a darling of March Madness after its upset of No. 4 seed Purdue. Again, Villanova seemed ripe for an upset, but all it did was blow out North Texas so badly in the first half that the entire second half was reduced to garbage time.
Wright countered the absence of Gillespie with his utilization of sophomore Chris Arcidiacono and junior forward Cole Swider off the bench. He also has effectively used 6-foot-9 forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl to run the point at times.
Arcidiacono, who averages less than one point per game, played 13 key minutes and scored six points against North Texas, the most significant contributions of his Villanova career to date. Swider played 19 minutes, scored nine points, had three assists and a steal.
Villanova has not shown itself to be a deep team this season, particularly with the absence of the injured players. That was a concern, in fact, against Winthrop, which played 11 players and likes to run.
Yet the Wildcats bench contributed 19 points Sunday to none from North Texas.
You can make the argument that all Villanova had to do to get to the Sweet 16 was defeat a No. 12 and 13 seed, and now that the Wildcats must face No. 1 seed Baylor at 5:15 p.m. on Saturday the run will end there.
Baylor, deep and experienced, is a No. 1 seed for a reason, and Villanova is the underdog.
But Wright and his Wildcats are playing with house money now. And, given the challenges of this season, a Wildcats win and an Elite Eight berth would qualify as significant news.
Janice founded TceDar with an aim to bring relevant and unaltered news to the general public with a specific viewpoint for each story catered by the team. She is a proficient journalist who holds a reputable portfolio with proficiency in content analysis and research. With ample knowledge about the business industry, Janice also contributes her knowledge to the business section of the website.