Villanova’s legacy will be determined where the program grows from here

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HOUSTON — Kris Jenkins will never have to pay for another cheesesteak in Philly ever again, not after he hit the game-winning three to beat North Carolina in the national title game on Monday night. But did you know that his recruitment to Villanova didn’t ramp up until after he tagged along on his brother — and current North Carolina point guard — Nate Britt’s visit?

Josh Hart, Villanova’s best player all season long, grew up in DC as a Georgetown fan. But the Hoyas never extended him a scholarship offer, which is a major reason why he wound up on the Main Line. Another reason? Villanova hired Doug Martin as an assistant coach. Martin had coached Hart with Team Takeover, but he was fired for lying on his résumé two months before Hart committed to Jay Wright.

Jalen Brunson wound up at Villanova after a sexual assault allegation against his father kept Temple from being able to hire him and cost the Brunsons a shot at being a package deal to the Owls. Ryan Arcidiacono is a lifelong Villanova fan. Phil Booth’s dad is from Philly and was partying in the street after the 1985 title.

That’s kind of who this Villanova team is, an amalgam of dudes from cities all along the I-95 corridor in the Northeast that somehow ended up on Jay Wright’s roster. They weren’t so much overlooked — no one in Villanova’s top seven was ranked outside the top 75 — as they were underwhelming additions. None of those commitments moved the needle, not even Brunson’s. He’s the McDonald’s All-American freshman on this roster, but the hype was somewhat minimized because Brunson doesn’t have the physical tools to ever be considered a good professional prospect and his addition for this season meant that he’d have at least a year playing as Arch’s apprentice.

The perfect summation is this: In the national title game, the Wildcats were led by a career-high 20 points from Booth, who had averaged a total of 5.0 points in Villanova’s eight prior postseason games. The game was won when Archidiacono, the face of the program and a lifelong Villanova fan, made a pass on a play that was more or less designed for him to get a shot at the rim.

“We don’t care about who gets the credit, we don’t care about who the leading scorer is, we don’t care anything about that,” Hart said after the game. “We care about this team. We care about each other. We care about this program.”

“I think this is a great team,” Hart continued, making a point to detail to reporters after the game just how tough their road to the title was. They beat an Iowa team that was top five for much of the year. They beat a Miami team who was top 15. They beat Kansas, Oklahoma and North Carolina, three teams that were ranked No. 1 this season and exactly half of the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. That’s impressive. “I’m trying to be as humble as I can.”

It’s that mindset that allowed Villanova to become arguably the least-talented national title winner in modern college basketball history.

And I mean that as a compliment.

Barring Mikal Bridges making a significant step forward next season, Hart improving his jumper at a Kawhi Leonard-esque pace or Brunson getting markedly better measureables, we’re looking at a team that just cut down the nets in Houston without the benefit of a first round pick on their roster. That hasn’t happened since 1987, when Keith Smart carried two-time all-american and second round NBA Draft pick Steve Alford to a national title game win over Syracuse. The only other team that could be in that conversation is UConn in 2014, and they had Shabazz Napier, Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright on the roster. Even Villanova’s 1985 title team had a top ten pick on the roster in Ed Pinckney.

So yes, I think it’s a fair argument to make.

And it makes me wonder what the legacy of this group is going to end up being.

This was a college basketball season devoid of elite talent and great teams. Are we going to remember this group as the team that finally broke the spell on Jay Wright in big games in March? Are we going to remember them as one of the most connected and mentally tough teams to come through the college ranks in year? Or are we going to remember them as the random Villanova team that ran through a tournament that was devoid of star power? The team that annually mows down a mediocre Big East and mowed down a mediocre tournament field?

The answer, to me, lies in what happens next season.

The Wildcats lose Arch and they lose Ochefu, both of which will be major blows; particularly Ochefu, who was the only low-post scoring threat on the roster. But they bring back Brunson, Booth, Hart, Bridges, Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall while adding a pair of talented freshmen. There’s a reason we have them ranked No. 3 in the country in our Way-Too-Early Preseason Top 25.

We believe.

But that puts even more pressure on the Wildcats to perform well.

If they win the Big East again next season and, like they did the last two years, flame out early in the tournament, the questions are going to return. This was a great team that capped an amazing run with a thrilling game that was won on a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

But if Villanova wants to be in the same breath as the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world, if they want to prove their program can consistently win at the highest level, they have to do it in a year where the Blue Devils and the Wildcats loaded.

They’re the preseason No. 1 and No. 2 team, respectively, in our top 25.

“It’s not over yet,” Hart said. “We’re going to be a strong team next year.”

“But I’m going to celebrate this one first.”

With sacrifice of 2 families, Jenkins becomes national champ

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HOUSTON (AP) It took two families and lots of sacrifice to get Kris Jenkins to Villanova. That was the difficult part.

Making one of the biggest shots in college basketball history was easy by comparison.

With both of his families in the house – the one that took him in and provided the stability he needed, and the one that realized that what they could give him might not be what he needed most – Jenkins dropped in a 3-pointer at horn Monday night to give the Wildcats their first national championship since 1985. The 77-74 victory against North Carolina also gave Jenkins bragging rights for life over his brother, Tar Heels guard Nate Britt.

“Nobody, really understood the hard work and dedication it took from my family, both of my families,” Jenkins said as he sat in the locker room, the national championship trophy lying on his chest like a resting baby. “It was great to share this moment with them.”

On the last play, which began with 4.7 seconds left, Jenkins was the player to inbound the ball from under his own basket to Ryan Arcidiacono. Jenkins had a feeling he would be open as the trailer. Sure enough he was.

“I believe every shot’s going in,” said Jenkins, who was slowed by foul trouble in the first half but scored 14 points in 21 minutes.

“Kris Jenkins’ explanation was brilliant,” Wright said of the junior’s break down of the last play. “That’s what I said to him when he was walking out. Because he’s the last option because he’s the inbounder. If he can catch up with Arch and get ahead of him and get in his vision, that’s your last look.”

Wright says he wanted Britt more than he wanted Jenkins when he started recruiting the brothers from the Baltimore area. Jenkins was out of shape and Wright wasn’t sure he could put in the work needed to play Villanova basketball.

Jenkins, by the way, doesn’t quite buy that story from his coach. But the fact remains that Jenkins has dropped about 40 pounds from his 6-foot-6 frame to become the second-leading scorer on a national championship team.

“I’ve been doubted my whole life. People always had buts after they say, `well Chris can do this but,”‘ Jenkins said. “One thing they can’t say is Kris is not a national champion.”

Jenkins played AAU ball with Britt, on a team coached by Britt’s father, Nate Sr. After his birth parents split up, his mother, Felicia Jenkins, got a job coaching basketball at a small school in Columbia, South Carolina. Felicia Jenkins helped craft the shooter that Jenkins has become, making sure he built up his range by not letting him shoot 3s until he mastered 2s.

She moved Kris to South Carolina but didn’t feel like it was the best situation for him. She asked the Britts if he could live with them back in Maryland and they became his legal guardians in 2007.

Jenkins and Britt aren’t just like brothers, they are brothers.

After the game Britt dressed with his back to the waiting reporters in the locker room and walked off to the showers to finish up without talking.

It was Britt who said the winner would have permanent bragging rights on Sunday.

“As my brother I’m sad for him, but as a competitor I want to win so I’m happy that the shot went in,” Jenkins said. “A lifetime of bragging rights.”

VIDEO: Charles Barkley was fired up at Kris Jenkins’ game-winner

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I can’t decide what I enjoy about this video more: Charles Barkley’s reaction to the game-winner — that he was watching on TV, by the way — or the fact that he’s doing this little dance in front of UNC alum Kenny Smith:

Two Shining Moments: How a wild ending to an incredible game salvaged a forgettable season

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HOUSTON — “That was supposed to be our moment.”

Marcus Paige is right.

It was.

North Carolina had erased a 10-point second half deficit that no one in NRG Stadium thought that they would be able to erase. They had gotten the big stops and they had made the big shots and with 13 seconds left, the Tar Heels had the ball, three points away from tying this thing up. The play that was called was for Paige to come off of a Brice Johnson down-screen, and Villanova, as they had done all night long, switched the screen. Joel Berry II was able to get the ball to Paige, who skipped away from Daniel Ochefu and stepped into a 23-foot three from the right wing.

Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono ran at Paige, challenging the shot and forcing the lefty Paige to fling up a double-clutch prayer of a three that rattled home, tying the game and sending the Tar Heel faithful into hysterics. The game was going to go into overtime, and it was that miracle three from Paige that finished off the comeback, a shot that left Paige 4.7 seconds from being mentioned in the same sentence as Mario Chalmers and Keith Smart and Lorenzo Charles for all of eternity.

Then ‘Nova’ happened.

Then Kris Jenkins happened.

And Paige’s moment was suddenly a footnote in the greatest game the world’s best sporting event has ever seen, a 77-74 Villanova win.

“As soon as he got it off, all you can do is pray when the ball is in the air,” Paige told reporters after the game, as poised and as confident as he’s ever been, the only sign that he had just suffered the most heart-breaking loss he’ll ever experience the redness still evident in his eyes. “It felt like it was in the air forever, and just knocked it down and the fireworks go off right then and the moment that you have been clawing for, fighting every day for, hoping for, dreaming about, just goes away. That fast.”

“It’s going to be impossible not to see it,” Paige added. “That shot’s going to go down as one of the biggest shots in NCAA tournament history. A buzzer-beater in the title game. I’m going to see it, and it’s going to hurt every time. It’s going to remind me of how close we were.”

“That was supposed to be our moment.”

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Jim Nantz, who has been the voice of college basketball’s national title game for 25 years, is known for his one-liners, his punny quips that come after the final buzzer in the national title game has sounded.

They’ve been as reliable as One Shining Moment … up until Monday night.

“I have no idea what I said at the end,” Nantz said with a smile after the game. “I completely lost my mind.”

Yes. He did. But there was a reason for that.

“It was epic,” Nantz said of the game. “It was Ali-Frazier.”

It was the greatest national title game of all time.

The ending will never be topped. It’s not possible. The shot that Paige hit was an all-timer, a hang-in-the-air, double-clutch three that will win him every game of HORSE that he plays the rest of his life. A game-tying three with 4.7 seconds left on the biggest stage in the sport. I mean, just look at this picture:

North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)
North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

He made that!

And it was wiped away with the first true buzzer-beater in title game history. Lorenzo Charles’ dunk came with two seconds left on the clock. Keith Smart hit his with four seconds left. The most famous shot in North Carolina basketball history, a 15-footer that was buried by that guy in all the internet photos back in 1982, came with 15 seconds left.

On Monday night, the buzzer sounded in the two seconds that felt like two hours that Jenkins’ shot was in the air.

“I pretty much knew it was going in,” Roy Williams said. “It was helpless. It was not a good feeling.”

But far too often great finishes are the easiest way to make us forget just how terrible a game truly was. That was not the case here. North Carolina caught fire in the first half, hitting seven of nine threes and jumping out to what would have been a nine-point lead had Josh Hart’s block of a Justin Jackson layup attempt not led to a Phil Booth floater at the other end.

And it was that floater that launched Villanova’s run, as the Wildcats’ ruthless efficiency on both ends of the floor allowed them to open up a 67-57 lead with just 5:29 left. The game at that point felt like it was over, which was when the Second Half Marcus Paige that we hadn’t seen for two years showed up. He scored 15 points in the final nine minutes and eight points after Villanova opened up that 10-point lead, proving a lost cause to be anything-but.

“That was one of the great college basketball games,” Jay Wright said. “Before they determined that shot was good, Roy came right up to me and said, ‘I’m really disappointed for our guys, that was a great game, but I’m really happy for you.'”

It was the perfect way to cap the season.

Because if we’re being honest here, this college basketball season was a dud.

We can fluff it up and talk about Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine going punch-for-punch during their race for Player of the Year, the resurgence of Tar Heels with the red dot from the NCAA’s investigative arm trained squarely on their Carolina Blue chests, the rise of Brandon Ingram to becoming the favorite to be picked No. 1 in June’s draft.

Whatever.

This season just didn’t move the needle. At all.

That’s what happens when there are no great teams, like there were in 2015, and when there are no great players destined for NBA super-stardom. How many people are tuning in to see Ben Simmons, the kid hyped as the Future Of Modern Basketball, when he mailed it in two-thirds of the way through the season on an LSU team that was never truly considered an at-large hopeful after a handful of ugly November losses?

Not only were NCAA tournament television ratings down significantly across the board this year, but there were more empty seats in NRG Stadium than I’ve ever seen at a Final Four game. Two hours before tip-off, tickets on StubHub were as cheap as $35. You could find a lower-level seat for $62. For a national title game, that’s basically giving the tickets away for free.

It may hurt for college basketball fans to read this, but 2015-16 was by far the most irrelevant season since I started covering the sport.

And yet, the final seconds of the 2015-16 college basketball season will go down as one of the single greatest moments in the history of sports in this country. We’ll never forget what happened in Houston at 10:27 p.m. CT on April 4th. The highlight will be played during every single March Madness montage from now until forever.

A buzzer-beating 25-footer to win a national title? Arcidiacono-to-Jenkins may now have to supplant Hill-to-Laettner as ‘The Shot’.

And in the end, that is what people remember about this season.

Five years from now, ten years from now, no one is going to be talking about the lack of star power in the 2016 Final Four. They’re not going to care about the fact that tickets were cheap or that the ratings were down or that the teams participating in the event weren’t as good as we’ve come to expect.

They’ll be talking about how great the title game was, about how absolutely out-of-this-world the ending was. In the end, it’s not the seasons or the games or the NCAA violations that we remember.

It’s the moments that last forever.

Kris Jenkins stole Marcus Paige’s moment, capping a forgettable season with an image, a moment that we will always remember.

VIDEOS: Fan reactions to Villanova’s win over North Carolina

AP Photo/Matt Rourke
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While No. 2 Villanova had plenty of fans make the trip to Houston from various points across the country, there were also those who remained on campus to watch the action. The school hosted a watch party at The Pavilion, and as one would expect the night produced some images that will be remembered for years to come.

Below are two videos of the fan reactions to Kris Jenkins’ game-winning three, with the first including the call from Villanova play-by-play announcer Ryan Fannon courtesy of WPVI-TV Philadelphia.

And here’s another high-quality reaction, although it did not take place at The Pavilion.

VIDEO: Jay Wright’s reaction to the Kris Jenkins game-winner

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Kris Jenkins’ three-pointer as time expired gave No. 2 Villanova a 77-74 win over No. 1 North Carolina in Monday’s national title game, the program’s second national title. But for as stunning as the finish was for many who watched it all unfold, beginning with Marcus Paige’s incredible double-clutch three with 4.7 seconds remaining, one key figure didn’t seem stunned at all.

That person was none other than Villanova head coach Jay Wright. As he watched Jenkins rise up for the game winner the head coach simply said “bang,” and he didn’t have much of a reaction after the fact either.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

Never in doubt.

Credit: The Cauldron