Josh Hart scored 37 points and added 11 rebounds and four assists as No. 1 Villanova avoided losing to No. 23 Notre Dame, 74-66.
The game was closer than the final score would indicate, as Notre Dame was up by as much 11 points in the first half, but Villanova came storming back to win (and cover).
Here are four things we learned from the near-upset:
1. Mike Brey was right: The Notre Dame head coach made headlines before the game when he told reporters that he hoped Saturday’s matchup with Villanova would be a chance to put attention on “two teams who have won instead of a lottery pick freshman who is maybe hurt … or a lottery pick freshman who is getting his butt beat.” While some read this as a shot at Duke’s Harry Giles III and Washington’s Markelle Fultz, it was actually a shot at the media, who pay more attention to the guys that have a shot at being good in the NBA instead of the guys who are great at this level.
And those veterans are going to get the attention they deserve after this game, because …
2. … because you cannot question Josh Hart anymore: No, he’s not going to end up being an NBA All-Star one day, but the senior star for the Wildcats is, as of Saturday, the leader in the clubhouse for National Player of the Year. He quite literally put Villanova on his back, scoring as many points as the rest of his teammates combined in a come-from-behind win for Villanova. Given the situation and the opponent, I’d argue that Hart’s performance was the best we’ve seen this season. It’s the first time since 1998 that a player has had 35 points, 10 boards and shot better than 70 percent from the floor in a game against a ranked team.
Has he convinced NBA scouts that he’ll be able to make a living at the next level yet? For the doubters, take a look at Malcolm Brogdon, who was an all-american at Virginia the last two years. Brogdon is playing more than 20 minutes a night with the Milwaukee Bucks while averaging 7.8 points and 2.9 assists. Hart may not have the ceiling that some of the younger guys do, but he’ll be able to contribute on an NBA team immediately.
But back to the point …
3. … and because Notre Dame is the real deal: The Irish entered Saturday at 9-0 on the season, but they had yet to beat anyone of consequence this season. They still haven’t beaten anyone of consequence, but if Saturday taught us anything, it’s that the Irish are really good.
I don’t think they’re good enough to compete for the ACC regular season title, not when the league is also inhabited by Duke, UNC and Louisville. I do, however, think that they have the horses to make a run at fourth place, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Irish could end up making their third straight Elite 8 this season. Matt Farrell totally outplayed Jalen Brunson on Saturday, finishing with 18 points and six assists while making Brunson fall in the first half. Bonzie Colson, who had been Notre Dame’s best player this year, finished with just 11 points and eight boards, but Steve Vasturia chipped in with 18 points of his own and Notre Dame got next to nothing from their best NBA prospect, V.J. Beachem.
All four of those guys are upper-classmen that were overshadowed by the like of Jerian Grant, Zach Auguste and Demetrius Jackson the last two years. But they can play, and those that don’t appreciate how good that Notre Dame program is at developing talent should recognize.
4. Surprise! Villanova is good enough to repeat: The Wildcats just landed a come-from-behind victory over a top 25 team in a game where literally one player on their roster played well. They may not be favored against Duke – or Kentucky, or Kansas, etc. – but it’s not a fluke this team is ranked No. 1 in the country.