The term blue blood in college basketball is generally defined as a program stepped in tradition with long-term success through multiples coaches and stars and a stat sheet littered with win totals, Wooden award winners, Final Four Appearances, All-Americans, and, national championships. These are the legendary schools of UCLA, Kansas, Indiana, Kentucky, UNC, and Duke. No question that these programs are carved into the fabric of the college basketball almanac.
But as the sport has expanded and more and more players now disperse to smaller schools and lesser know programs, new “Blue Bloods” have emerged with the likes of Syracuse, Michigan State, UConn, and Louisville. But one program is beginning to put its stamp of this new era and a new term, the Millennial Blue Blood.
The traditional blue bloods have seen some atrophy of late. Indiana hasn’t had sustained success for decades. UCLA has faltered from its glory days. This has swung the door open for another program to take up the mantel. Another Patriots dynasty if you will, a new age superpower. After last night’s desecration of an excellent Wolverine squad, the Villanova Wildcats are poised to take their place as the Millennial Blue Blood.
We can look at their incredible run over the last 5 years in which they have the most wins in college basketball with 165, received three #1 seeds and two #2 seeds, have 4 Big East titles, 2 National Championships, and most impressively, haven’t lost back-to-back games. Villanova hasn’t LOST BACK-TO-BACK GAMES IN 5 YEARS!
Jay Wright’s Wildcats are one of only 4 teams since the introduction of the 64-team bracket to win 2 titles in 3 years. But that is the last 5 years, impressive but a blue blood has sustained success. Since the glory days of Rollie Massimino and Ed Pickney and the ’85 title run, Villanova had some less than stellar years. But then in 2001 they hired Jay Wright, the superbly dressed, cool as a cat, former Bucknell and Bucks County PA hopes star to take over a suffering program. And take over he did. With a 72% (and climbing) winning percentage that matches up with Jim Boeheim, Tom Izzo, and Rick Pitino, Coach Wright is quickly climbing to the pantheon of coaches as he chases Bill Self, Roy Williams, and Coach K.
This isn’t a 5 year run. Starting with the 2006 Elite 8 squad featuring Allen Ray, Randy Foye, and NBA All-Star Kyle Lowry, the Wildcats began to climb. Next came the 2009 Final Four team featuring Dante Cunnigham, Corey Fisher, and All-American Scottie Reynolds that fell to eventual champs UNC but not before Reynolds excited the nation with a buzzer beater against Pitt. Maalik Wayns and Corey Stokes amongst others battled through seasons that ended mostly in tournament loses over the next few seasons until the magical run for the 2016 squad with Ryan Arcidiacono, Daniel Ochefu, Josh Hart, and Big Smooth aka Kris Jenkins. Then last night happened. Jay Wright’s greatest achievement and a blueprint for the rest of the sport to follow.
Villanova under Wright has never been a one-and-done school. They don’t get Top-10 recruits and McDonald’s All-Americans by the truck load. They find underdeveloped lottery picks (Mikal Bridges), scrappy local kids (Donte DiVincenzo), and short, “unathletic” floor generals (Jalen Brunson) to fill out a roster of leaders who sacrifice for the team. They flow on offense and pride themselves in defense. This squad, and others before it, have a Golden State-like quality. I’m not speaking about 3 pointers although both teams are highly proficient in that category. I am speaking about the idea of creating artwork at the offensive end with the ball and the players constantly moving. The desire to find the right shot in the right place with the right player shooting. Each game in the tournament saw a different player shine. Watch the 2016 buzzer beater. Arcidiacono should have shot it but Jenkins was the right player in the right place for the right shot. That is Villanova basketball and that is why this success has been sustained.
They don’t have sets, they have principles. That is Bill Raftery’s line from the game. And those principles are going to continue as long as Jay Wright is walking the court. Here is where the next step comes. To be a blue blood your program must move beyond a coach and continue to have success. It’s been nearly 2 decades of sustained success for the Wildcats but they can’t sit on their success if they want to be the next blue blood of college basketball. They must continue to win and at a high level. When the day comes and Jay Wright steps aside, who is next? But I have faith. This team is loaded next year and recruiting is gaining traction as more blue-chippers wanna see what the suburban school has to offer. No program is better positioned to take the mantle of the Millennial Blue Blood than Villanova. So expect a repeat next year and another parade down Broad Street. Remember the motto of Coach Wright – “We play for those who came before us” and remember the beginnings of the next legendary program of college basketball.