March Madness 2018: Villanova's four NBA players and deadly offense silence doubters
Villanova belongs in the group of modern bluebloods, and it's time to acknowledge that
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PITTSBURGH -- Villanova might 3-ball-bomb its way to a second national title in three years.
The best offense in college basketball buried Alabama 81-58 in Saturday's second round of the NCAA Tournament to move on to the Sweet 16. When its 3s are falling like meteorites, Villanova is the most terrifying team in college hoops -- and I can report the top-seeded Wildcats frightened the frick out of No. 9 Crimson Tide.
This game grew a gap in a hurry.
Villanova mainly led a back-and-forth first half (32-27) because ever-improving Wildcats sophomore Donte DiVincenzo scored 18 points and made five 3s. But the Wildcats then let loose and outscored Alabama 49-31 after the break -- and it could've been worse if not for essentially five minutes of garbage time.
The long-ball assault came on Bama like boulders bashing off a mountain. Jay Wright's team opened up the second half with an 18-1 run and hit its first six 3-point attempts. Within minutes, the Crimson Tide were toast. Villanova finished the second half with 10 made from beyond the arc. For the game, the Wildcats were outlandish from the outside: They finished with 17 treys, providing the NCAA Tournament with one of the best long-distance showings in history.
"We don't really care about offense," Wildcats wing MIkal Bridges said. "We care about defending and rebounding on the other end. So that's the main thing."
A team that rates at the most efficient with the ball, in its nature, cares about offense. But with how casual it can tick of triples, Bridges does have a point. There is a pride in its defense that's reward with how it tilts the floor on the other sid.
"There's a youthful exuberance with this team that is exciting me," VU coach Jay Wright said.
Between Saturday's beatdown and the 87-61 route of Radford in the first round, Villanova's heading into the second weekend as the hottest team in the tournament. It's been decades since a team was this good from beyond the arc in the Big Dance.
The 3-point shooting, great as it is, will overshadow something that might become more of a talking point should Villanova get to the 2018 Final Four. It's about time we start acknowledging this program the way we do Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA.
The Wildcats are a modern blueblood with NBA talent all over the roster.
You might think of Villanova as a really good team with one or two vets who have built of their pro draft stock thanks to years of winning. But it's more than that. This team has four studs who are likely to be drafted this year or next. Jay Wright and his staff are starting to show they can recruit -- and develop -- NBA players as frequently as any coach not named Calipari or Krzyzewski.
College basketball writers and pundits like to fall back on that talking point about how you almost always need at least two NBA guys in order to win a national championship. But what if you have four? That's what Villanova is working with right now. It's why the Wildcats are the favorites to win it all, now that Virginia got UMBC'd.
Obviously Jalen Brunson needs little description. The frontrunner for National Player of the Year might be the best player in college basketball. His IQ and work ethic alone will ensure he sticks in the NBA for years. But Brunson isn't even the best talent on this team. Bridges was so ridiculous in the second half on Saturday (22 points on 7-of-11 shooting and five 3s) that it would be business malpractice not to take him in the top 10 of this year's draft.
After stinking up the first half (0 for 5 and one point), Bridges channeled the gods and helped Villanova put away the Tide with a devastating quickness.
Redshirt freshman Omari Spellman is another guy who's going to earn an NBA paycheck. He's a stretch 4 with a quirky shot -- but the form works and he's as much of a matchup problem as Bridges. Spellman's also shooting 44 percent from 3 this season, best on the team.
The fourth guy is DiVincenzo -- the "Big Ragu"! He's a 21-year-old sophomore who shoots nearly 40 percent from deep and is setting himself up to be a potential All-American next season. If Brunson leaves, the team is his. He'll be great in 2018-19.
The four of them, in addition to big man Eric Paschall and senior starting guard Phil Booth, have an efficiency about them that's infectious. They pass balls on angles tighter than a clothesline and they'll entomb you with a jackhammer of 3-pointers. What they did to Alabama in the first five minutes of the second half should send a shiver through every team left in the tournament.
Through two games, Villanova put up 168 points and won by an average of 24.5. After falling (as a top-two seed) in the first weekend three of the past four seasons, there will be no letdown this year. Sweet 16s don't come easy. Coaches who make them know how precious they are. This team was way too good to get flipped this season. The Wildcats were not going to get UMBC'd or Alabama'd or anything you want to call it. They watched the Retrievers make history on Friday night.
They came ready.
"Every team in the tournament, no matter if you're 1 seed or 16 seed, they're really good teams," Bridges said. "They want to be here for a reason. They won the tournaments. They won over 20-some games throughout the season. So they're really good teams. You got to bring it every night. You can be beaten. That's why we played Villanova basketball for 40 minutes against anybody. You could be a 16 seed, could be a No. 1 seed. We play our way. We won't take anybody lightly."
Now they're shipping up to Boston. The last time that city hosted a second weekend, Villanova made the trip. It then made the Final Four. Scottie Reynolds, keep a phone charger close by.
"Boston is a great town, old Big East town like Pittsburgh," Wright said. "We stir up old Big East feelings. We like that."
Villanova is now the first team ever to win 32 games in four straight seasons. It's done that because of point guard play, reliable veterans -- and a stock of NBA-level talent. Every sensible basketball fan credits Villanova for how good it is as a team, and as a program, but this tournament could wind up showing just how special the talent in Philadelphia is.
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