The Seven Moments That Led To Villanova’s Championship

Ryan Arcidiacono Chooses Villanova

Let’s take it back a few years to a moment that could have set off quite the Butterfly Effect. If Ryan Arcidiacono had spurned his parents’ alma mater and chosen to play for Billy Donovan at Florida instead, the ripples through the college basketball world would be seemingly endless.

Villanova probably doesn’t win the title this year, Virginia grabs a one seed last year (and a better chance to reach the Sweet Sixteen, have a healthier Justin Anderson, and a better shot at winning last year’s championship). Donovan adds a freshman Arcidiacono to a Gators team that made the Elite Eight in 2013 and a sophomore Arch to a Final Four Florida team in 2014. Throw in a championship or a little more in the current cupboard at Florida and Donovan may well still be coaching in Gainesville. The Oklahoma City Thunder may have turned to Tom Thibodeou or another high profile college coach.

Do Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth still choose Villanova? Jay Wright, with an Archie sized hole at guard on his roster, may push even harder for them or recruit someone else.

If Arch chose swampy weather over life on Lancaster Avenue, Kris Jenkins’ game-winning shot disappears like Marty McFly’s siblings in his photograph.

Oklahoma Beats The Hell Out of Villanova

Fast forward to our current season, when the Wildcats suffered their first loss, and it was a doozy. On Pearl Harbor Day in Hawaii, the Sooners absolutely crushed Villanova. The Wildcats never led and it was never close. Per Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, Villanova’s highest win probability came during a scoreless tie in the game’s first minute.

The biggest issue for Nova in the game was dismal shooting, talling 4-32 from beyond the arc. Clearly, Jay Wright and his staff were able to learn something there, as the Cats only attempted 30+ threes in four of their remaining 32 games (wins over Delaware and DePaul, losses to Providence and Xavier). In the NCAA Tournament, they only topped 20 3-point attempts once (in the Round of 64 vs. UNC-Asheville). In the final game against UNC, they were a succinct and efficent 8 of 14 from outside.

Nova’s Lead Over Xavier Hits 33 (in game’s the final minute)

Revisionist historians will look back at the 2015-2016 Xavier Musketeers as a team who took up residence in the top 10 of the AP Poll simply by default, incapable of winning big games or in the postseason. That’s a ridiculous way to reconcile a very good season with a disappointing finish. The X-Men won 11 games over teams who played in the NCAA Tournament, posting only 8 losses against the nation’s 32nd ranked strength of schedule.

But on New Year’s Eve, the Musketeers brought a top 5 ranking into the Pavilion and got obliterated by Villanova. Xavier freshman Edmond Sumner took a nasty fall early on, was carted off on a stretcher, and his team’s energy, fire, and hopes exited the building with him that day. Villanova got whatever they wanted on offense, shooting over 60 percent from the field, over 50 percent from deep, and sealed things by stroking better than 90 percent of their free throws. Perhaps the most telling thing about this game was not that Villanova simply won a blowout (with one of Xavier’s best players injured) but that the Nova lead never shrunk or was anywhere close to in danger. Their largest lead came in the game’s final minute, and barring a garbage time basket by Xavier, the final score would have been the Wildcats’ biggest advantage of the day.

via USATSI
via USATSI

The Cats play that day may have been the best game anyone played all season, until they showed the ability to reach that height again, stomping Oklahoma in the Final Four.

Seton Hall Wins the Big East Tournament

Every time an undefeated team is heading towards the postseason, the pundits and scribes love to bemoan whether they’d be better off mentally with a loss under their belt. The same is true of the Warriors in their quest for the NBA’s all-time wins record.

Villanova was not on pace for a record or unblemished season, but the Wildcats were starting to show some complacency. They’d won the Big East Tournament last year and had the chance to do so against third-seeded Seton Hall this time around. They’d won two prior meetings with the Pirates before meeting at MSG.

A close win may have still provided the jolt needed to remind Villanova of the task at hand, but losing outright and seeing Isaiah Whitehead and Seton Hall celebrate a conference championship served as a wake-up call. Villanova transformed from a team coasting to a one-seed in their own building, to an under the radar two-seed (in a region with the top overall seed).

Arch’s Steal

Up by 3 with under ten seconds left against Kansas, Ryan Arcidiacono reminded us all, once again, just how crucial veteran play can be late in the NCAA Tournament. With so little time left on the clock, many would like to see the defensive team foul, rather than risk a game-tying three. Others would like to see smart, suffocating defense prevent a good look at the rim.

Arcidiacono saw an opportunity for both. Attack the ball-handler (who had his back to the basket). If the ref calls a foul, Frank Mason shoots two shots, down by three with mere ticks left on the clock. If there’s no foul called, you steal the ball and the game ends. If somehow there’s no foul or steal, Frank Mason, standing merely 5’9, is trapped with his back to the basket and no chance to shoot.

People take plays like this for granted. Everyone loves to rip players for fouling when they aren’t supposed to or missing a steal in the final seconds with a lead. The flip-side can’t be seen as simply what’s supposed to happen. A play like that requires serious foresight and presence of mind to pull off.

Brice Johnson Scores Only Twice in the Final 15 Minutes of the Championship Game

If you didn’t know that there was one and only one first team All-American on the court in the final game, would you be able to pick out who it was?

Brice Johnson played a fine game, but North Carolina’s focus never seemed to be getting him the ball, leaving him frustrated for long stretches. On paper, Villanova was a perfect match-up for Johnson. The Wildcats tried to cover Johnson with Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart, both 4-6 inches shorter with nowhere near the length. The Cats doubled-down on that strategy, by switching across the board, often leaving Arcidiacono or Jalen Brunson fighting with Johnson on the block. Stingy Villanova perimeter defense, combined with UNC’s general disinterest in making entry passes, left the game’s best player unable to heavily effect the outcome.

That Shot.

What more can be said? One of the wildest endings in basketball history. Now it just needs a name.

The Kris Swish. The Brother Beater. The Big Bang. The Main Line Twine. The Dagger From the Lagger.

Well, I tried my best.

**

Header Image via Getty Image

Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org, Rush The Court, ESPN.com, and USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain. If you have any suggestions, tips, ideas, or questions, email them to palestraback@gmail.com.

I’m well aware that the logo atop the site, though chosen as an attempt to honor Villanova’s championship win, appears more like the Wildcats opponent got the win…it’s the best I have. It’s still their color scheme!

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