Villanova is the best early season program in the nation.
Obviously, the Wildcats are also great in the middle of the season. And that 2016 national title suggests they’re nice late in the season, too. But early in the season? Nobody is better. And an 88-72 victory against Gonzaga on Tuesday evening in the opening game of the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden was merely the latest reminder.
“They put it on us pretty good,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said afterward.
He was right.
Villanova controlled things from start to finish. The Wildcats were up 17 points in the first half and never led by fewer than seven in the second. Consequently, they’re now 9-0 with victories against No. 12 Gonzaga and No. 24 Tennessee.
And here’s a weird fact for you that proves my earlier point: Villanova has not lost a game before this day on the calendar in five consecutive seasons. The Wildcats started 11-0 and didn’t lose until Dec. 28 in the 2013-14 season. They started 13-0 and didn’t lose until Jan. 3 in the 2014-15 season. They started 7-0 and didn’t lose until Dec. 7 in the 2015-16 season. They started 14-0 and didn’t lose until Dec. 31 in the 2016-17 season. And now they’re 9-0 — and their next game isn’t until Dec. 10. Add it up, and Villanova is 9-0 vs. teams that finished in KenPom’s top 30 in the past four seasons (or are in KenPom’s top 30 right now). And in the previous four seasons, yes, the Wildcats went on to win the Big East’s regular-season title. So prematurely printing another banner wouldn’t be the dumbest thing.
It really is a terrific story.
This private university located in a Philadelphia suburb that lucked into a national championship in 1985 but didn’t make another Final Four for 24 years is now a consistent and legitimate national power. And it’s not like Villanova has simply ridden one or two great recruiting classes to amazing results. The Wildcats have won four consecutive Big East titles, and finished in the top 15 at KenPom all four years, even though they’ve never had the same top-two scorers from one season to the next.
And now they’re ranked No. 1 at KenPom and projected to finish the regular season 27-4. Add the Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament into the equation, and that’ll be five consecutive seasons with at least 29 victories.
Amazing — just like Mikal Bridges, who is enjoying a breakout season. The junior wing is averaging 19.0 points and 6.2 rebounds through nine games. He finished with 28 points, six rebounds and one don’t-jump-with-me dunk against Gonzaga.
Bottom line, Villanova looks great again.
The key players are different from the key players who cut nets on the first Monday in April 2016. But they’re equally as effective, perhaps even better. So it’ll be no surprise, whatsoever, if Jay Wright finds himself on top of a ladder again in April 2018.