Villanova Was Historically Great This Season
For the second time in three seasons, the Villanova Wildcats have been crowned the National Champions of men's college basketball. In a season in which the media did not think there were any great teams, Villanova proved once and for all that they were that team.
Too bad it took until the Final Four for most to get on board.
An Elite Offense
Everyone knows Villanova for their amazing offense -- mostly because they have been tagged as a program that famously lives and dies by the three during an era where all of basketball is falling in love with three-pointers. While 'Nova has ranked in the top four in Kenpom's adjusted offensive efficiency in each of the past four seasons, they were on a whole new level this year.
Villanova's efficiency rating was 127.8, a number that has only been eclipsed by the 2015 Wisconsin team that lost in the National Championship. However, when looking at offensive rating, Villanova actually scored more points per 100 possessions (122.2) than that Wisconsin team. Actually, they scored more points per trip than anyone else within the last 10 years that College Basketball Reference has been tracking the stat, and their three-point shooting was a big reason for that.
The Wildcats set a record for most three-pointers converted in a season (464) because of the number of players they had on their team that could shoot from distance. Seven players on their roster shot above 35.5 percent from beyond the arc in 2018, which helped them shoot 40 percent as a team -- 13th in the nation.
Part of the reason for this team's success is that they did not have to die with the three like some past 'Nova teams did. This Villanova team shot 59 percent inside the arc, which ranked fourth in the country. When teams started running them off the three-point line, or if the threes were not falling, the Wildcats could always rely on being efficient finishing around the basket. And it was not like they had more height than usual that allowed them to get better looks close to the hoop -- Omari Spellman actually had the worst two-point percentage of anybody on the team that took at least three attempts per game from inside the arc. The most efficient two-point shooter was -- you guessed it -- the shortest player in the Wildcats' starting lineup, Jalen Brunson, who shot a shade under 60 percent, using a superior low-post game for someone who only stands 6'3''.
While each member of a team that boasts six 10-plus points per game scorers is important in the system, Brunson is the catalyst for this group. In a season in which he averaged 18.9 points and 4.6 assists per game, Brunson captured numerous honors, including Naismith Player of the Year, for his efforts. Coach Jay Wright speaks very similarly of Brunson and Ryan Arcidiacono -- the latter of whom was the on-floor leader for Villanova's 2016 National Championship team. He and fellow team leader Mikal Bridges rate as two of the most efficient and important offensive players in the country -- both ranking in the top 13 of offensive rating and top 4 in offensive win shares this season.
A Run of Dominance
Villanova used all of the above to go on a tear through the tournament -- beating their opponents by an average of 17.7 points per game and becoming only the fourth team since 1985 to win all of their games by double digits. They also became just the fourth team since the beginning of the Final Four era in 1939 to win both the National Semifinal and National Championship by at least 16 points. The Wildcats knocked down a record 76 three-pointers en route to the championship, setting the record for most threes in a Final Four game with 18 against Kansas.
The Wildcats got the most explosive single-game effort in the tournament from sophomore and Big East Sixth Man of the Year Donte DiVincenzo, who dropped 31 points in the title game, becoming the third player in history to score 30-plus points while shooting better than 66 percent from the floor in the championship game.
Donte DiVincenzo did it all in the first half for @NovaMBB! 🔥#LetsMarchNova#NationalChampionship pic.twitter.com/QOJvDw9gJ8
— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) April 3, 2018
This was nothing new for "The Big Ragu" as DiVincenzo netted 18 points in the first half of the Wildcats' second-round victory over Alabama during a spell when the rest of the team was having trouble scoring.
Finally, this team is not what it is without the mastermind of Villanova basketball, Jay Wright. The story has been told a million times about how Wright went back to the drawing board after the Wildcats' rode a 2009 trip to the Final Four into recruiting riches that drove the program to lows that they had not seen since the 1997-98 season. After a 13-19 record in 2011-12, Wright made sure he was recruiting the right players to both buy in and succeed in his system.
This has lead to a 165-21 stretch over the last five seasons for Villanova with players from recruiting classes that routinely rank in the 30s since 2013, according to ESPN's recruiting rankings. While the culture that Wright has built at Villanova is analytically immeasurable, the most important number that can be credited to him and his staff is two -- which is the number of national titles that they have claimed in the past three years.