2016 Final Four: How The Villanova Wildcats Have Become Philadelphia’s Favorite New Underdog
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LOUISVILLE – Hours after knocking off top overall seed Kansas 64-59 in the South regional final to advance to their fifth Final Four in school history, the No.2 seeded Villanova Wildcats etched their name into the storied sports lore of Philadelphia sports culture.
Thanks to a remarkable 33-5 season that has provided a much-needed distraction from the woeful 9-64 Sixers and the gridiron train wreck that was egomaniacal former Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, the plucky little Catholic university from the northwestern Philadelphia suburbs has put the remaining field on notice.
A small Roman Catholic school with a enrollment of just over 10,000, Villanova has produced some standout talent in the NBA such as Randy Foye, Kerry Kittles and NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry and gridiron greats such as Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long and Brian Westbrook, ‘Nova’s latest tourney run may add some new names to Philadelphia’s already illustrious history.
In a region that values a blue-collar, scrappy-like workman attitude that has embraced greats such as Mike Schmidt, the Broad Street Bullies, Allen Iverson, Donovan McNabb and Rocky—even though he is fictional—Philly sports fans love and are passionate of their own, and nothing exemplifies the Philly underdog story better than the 2016 edition of the Villanova Wildcats.
Much like the heralded Rollie Massimino 1985 group of no-names that pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in college basketball history in beating John Thompson’s big bad Patrick Ewing-led Hoyas, the present-day group of Wildcats led by Jay Wright may be a second seed, but they didn’t give off that collective vibe that there were one.
I don’t know if it is just this writer’s opinion that because they are not a bigger brand name such as Kentucky or Duke, but this Villanova team is the most disrespected and shunned second seed I’ve watched in my lifetime.
Mind you, I was nine years old when ‘Nova took down Hoya Paranoia that fateful night in the bluegrass palace that was Rupp Arena on April Fool’s Day, but make no mistake, ‘Nova may get the last laugh, thanks to being overlooked by everyone.
Much like the ‘85 team that defeated Dayton, top seeds Michigan, Maryland and second-seeded North Carolina to advance to the Final Four out of the Southeast Regional, the present-day Wildcats defeated 15th-seeded UNC Asheville, seventh-seeded Iowa, third-seeded Miami (FL) and the top overall seed in the tourney in Kansas to advance to the Final Four out of the—you guessed it, the South regional, played—you guessed it again, the state of Kentucky!—to play perhaps the top college player in the country in Buddy Hield and the No.2-seeded Oklahoma Sooners.
Not to say that I don’t believe in coincidences, but to advance out of the same regional final to the Final Four played in the same state (twice!), and knock off the AP’s No.1 ranked team in the process, too many things are aligning perfectly in the modern-day remake of ‘Nova’s 1985 Cinderella fairytale classic.
While this group of Wildcats may not have a Ed Pinckney among them, much like that ‘85 squad—again!—this Wildcats team is frighteningly efficient, as they have shot 47.6 percent from the field during the regular season and in their Final Four run, are shooting 55 percent from the field and a blistering 62.6 percent from three-point range.
This may be as close to a “team” as one can get in today’s era of “one-and-done” in the form of unheralded starters such as Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson have helped provide locals in the second mecca of hoops with the best tourney run in recent memory since the boys from Hawk Hill in Jameer Nelson and the pre Gloria James version of Delonte West-led fellow Big Five rival St. Joseph deep into March.
Call me crazy but ‘Nova has all the ingredients to win their second-ever national title in the form of hot-shooting, a coach in Wright that is getting the most out of his otherwise NBA D-League talent, and players who are buying in to the “team” concept at the highest degree.
If you are one of the few that have the Wildcats cutting down the nets in Houston, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back and party like it’s 1985, as you may end up having the last laugh in the end.
In terms of ‘Nova, if they do manage to pull win it all, it will be another notch in the proverbial belt of basketball-rich Philadelphia to add to its already great history that would make William Penn himself proud.