The most interesting conversation to have in regards to Villanova and the reigning champ’s NBA draft exodus is not how good they will be for the 2018-19 season but rather how good they were this past season, and why we never gave them the credit they deserved.
The winner of the 2018 national title was not only one of the best champs we’ve seen in the one-and-done era, but one of the most talented, despite the narrative that surrounded the program.
Let’s start with the obvious: There were essentially six guys that played the majority of the minutes in Villanova’s rotation last season: Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth, and while none of them elicit the kind of awe that comes with someone like Deandre Ayton or Anthony Davis, each and every one of them is a long way from the overlooked and under-recruited they were portrayed as.
Two of those six — Brunson and Spellman — were McDonald’s All-Americans and five-star prospects coming out of high school, and neither of them were in their first season on campus. Brunson was a junior while Spellman was a redshirt freshman. Bridges was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2014, ranked 81st by 247 sports with offers to programs like Florida, Xavier, Seton Hall and Virginia Tech. He was ranked six spots behind Booth in the class, who held offers from Georgetown, Maryland, Indiana and Xavier. DiVincenzo, like Bridges and Booth, was a four-star recruit ranked in the top 100 with offers to programs like Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt.
Paschall is the only guy from that group that wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school, but after torching Atlantic 10 opponents as a freshman at Fordham, he picked Villanova over Kansas, Florida and Providence.
Everyone knew who they were. Many of the nation’s best programs wanted them.
What’s more is that each and every one of those players grew and developed within the Villanova program. Brunson was the National Player of the Year in 2018. Mikal Bridges was an all-american. DiVincenzo was the Final Four MOP despite coming off of the bench for that team. There is a very real chance that, on June 21st, the four players that declared for the draft will hear their names called in the first round; it would be surprising if any of the four made it past the top 40.
That doesn’t include Paschall — who, for my money, will be drafted next season and have an NBA career — or Booth — who scored 20 points in the title game when Villanova cut down the nets in 2016.
This wasn’t a roster made up of the cast of Hoosiers. Wright didn’t win a title with a bunch of walk-ons.
Villanova had dudes.
And those dudes, for the entirety of the 2017-18 season, were the best team in college basketball. When they were at full strength last season, they lost two games. One of those losses came at Butler, by eight points, on a night where the Bulldogs shot 15-for-22 from three. The other came at Creighton, in overtime, on a night where the Bluejays shot 12-for-29 from three. Both Paschall and Booth missed the loss to St. John’s. Booth missed the loss at Providence while it was Paschall’s first game back from a concussion.
Villanova did all that while posting the single-most efficient offense in KenPom’s database, scoring 1.227 points-per-possession, more than Lonzo Ball’s UCLA team, Frank Kaminsky’s Wisconsin teams and Doug McDermott’s Creighton teams.
Wright deserves all the credit in the world for identifying players that fit in with the culture that he wanted to build at Villanova, for convincing them to enroll at Villanova despite the fact that it might take them a year or two before they see the floor and then developing them into players that reached their full potential.
The point isn’t to minimize the job that he did; rather, it’s time that we need to start truly giving him the respect he deserves.
Villanova’s 2018 team was one of the greatest that we’ve ever seen because they played together, they bought in and, over time, they developed into a team chock-full of NBA talent.
And the proof will come when, in three weeks, four of them hear Adam Silver call their names.