Posted by: Mike Cornelius | April 5, 2018

A Dominating Run To Another Title

Well that was anticlimactic wasn’t it? This year’s edition of March Madness was not without drama, from the first ever opening round upset of a number one seed by a sixteen to the improbable run of an eleven seed all the way to the Final Four. But more than two weeks after the Retrievers of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County shocked the Virginia Cavaliers 74-54 and once the Ramblers of Loyola University Chicago arrived in San Antonio as the lowest seed to make it to the tournament’s final weekend since Virginia Commonwealth in 2011, Saturday’s two national semifinals and Monday night’s championship game all turned into lopsided routs. Villanova fans had plenty of reasons to smile after the Wildcats won their second title in three years, but for everyone else Final Four weekend was hardly One Shining Moment.

All three games were decided by double-digits, with fifteen points the average margin of victory. The first semifinal, between upstart Loyola Chicago and Big Ten champion Michigan, gave fans the most prolonged tension of the weekend. The Ramblers took a seven-point lead into the intermission and stretched the margin to ten early in the second half. But since the expansion to a sixty-four team bracket in 1985 just six teams from the bottom half of the draw have made it to the Final Four. None of the previous five made it to the championship contest, and despite the prayers of 98-year-old team chaplain Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, Loyola was unable to buck that trend. Led by Moritz Wagner’s 24 points and 15 rebounds, the Wolverines closed the game with a 38-16 run, effectively tolling the midnight hour for the Cinderella squad from the Windy City.

The second semifinal was billed as the weekend’s marquee matchup, a faceoff between the only two number one seeds still standing. But Kansas was utterly overmatched against Villanova right from the opening tip. It took less than seven minutes for the Wildcats to score 22 points while holding the Jayhawks to just 4. The lead remained in double-digits the rest of the way, with Villanova dropping eighteen three-pointers, thirteen in the first half alone. The offensive juggernaut from Philadelphia shot better than fifty percent from the floor, and three up 105 shots to 84 for Kansas, a twenty-five percent advantage. While obviously not close, the 95-79 final score didn’t fully capture the lopsided nature of the contest, as the Wildcats coasted home in the game’s closing minutes.

Villanova was a heavy favorite against Michigan on Monday night. The Wildcats opened as the choice by 6.5 points, and that number quickly climbed at many Las Vegas sports books. That was the biggest betting margin for the championship game in eight years. The Big East champion was also the overwhelming pick of the pundits, despite Michigan’s status as the hottest team in the country, with fourteen straight wins going into the final game of the season.

For a brief time in the early going, the oddsmakers and experts may have harbored a second thought or too. Michigan took the early lead, again thanks to the play of Wagner. At the same time the Wolverines’ defense was denying Villanova’s shooters the open looks they had enjoyed in their dominating run through the tournament. But then Villanova coach Jay Wright looked down his bench and signaled for the team’s sixth man, reserve guard Donte DiVincenzo, to enter the game. The sophomore ignited Villanova’s offense, netting 18 points before the break, which wiped out the Michigan advantage and staked the favorites to a nine-point edge at 37-28 after twenty minutes of play.

DiVincenzo, who was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player, continued his torrid run in the second half. He added another 13 points, his average per game coming into the contest, to finish with 31 overall on 10 of 15 shooting including 5 of 7 from long-range. Just as on Saturday night, the 79-62 final score could easily have been even more lopsided.

That statement could apply to all six of Villanova’s games in the tournament. The Wildcats’ dominating march through the bracket presaged the routs at the Alamodome. Villanova’s closest contests were a pair of twelve-point victories in the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight. In the first of those, against West Virginia, the Wildcats led by just two points at the half. That was the nearest this year’s champion was to trailing at any demarcation point over the past two and a half weeks.

In between the school’s two title runs coach Wright’s team was the overall top seed in last year’s tournament. Though that appearance ended abruptly with a second round loss to Wisconsin, it means that over the last three years Villanova has entered the tournament with an overall seeding of seventh, first, and second, and finished with a pair of championships. If this were a professional league the word dynasty would be freely used to describe the Wildcats.

The only reason it isn’t is because of the enormous player turnover rate in the college game. While Villanova is not immune to that, Wright has not given over his program to one-and-done high school stars like so many of the elite college franchises. He works closely with his players to understand how long they expect to stay before declaring for the NBA Draft, and plots his recruiting around filling holes as they occur, rather than essentially starting from scratch each season. It’s a model that both harkens back to an earlier day and may well foreshadow the near future.

Now that “One Shining Moment” has been played and the confetti has fallen, attention will return to the corruption scandal that has led to federal charges against multiple assistant coaches and agents. The NBA’s ridiculous rule requiring players to be one year removed from high school before entering the Draft has turned many collegiate programs into short-term holding pens for young talent just passing through. But that is surely about to change. Head coaches at prestige programs, who have worked furiously every year to sign the top high school players, knowing that they will only wear the school’s uniform for one time through the schedule, will now have to rethink their approach. When they do, they will likely look to Villanova, and see a route to success that’s been right in front of them all along.


  1. These one-and-done players pass up the chance of a lifetime for the chance of a lifetime by leaving school for the glamour of the Big Show. Thanks for the insight on Villanova’s response to the trend, Mike. Maybe in the future the players will pickup a bit of education while they are in the “holding pen”.

    • Education? That’s why people go to college? Who knew!!! Thanks as always Allan,


      Michael Cornelius

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