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The bottom half of this list was tough to put together, and there were at least another 10 under consideration before we made our final decisions – let us know what your think!

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Archive for the ‘Basketball’ Category

The Wright way pays off

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 4 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Larry Brown used to preach about playing the right way.

That mantra need to be updated. Basketball should be played the Wright way.

Jay Wright’s success at Villanova shouldn’t be measured solely by national championships. If it were measured using that criteria, Wright would fare extremely well, as is evident by Thursday’s parade down Market Street to celebrate Villanova’s second national championship in the past three seasons.

But Wright’s success isn’t simply about winning. It’s about the way the Wildcats win.

Wright has embraced the 3-point shot. No team in NCAA history made more 3-pointers in one season than Villanova did this season. But basketball traditionalists can appreciate the old-school way in which the Wildcats create open 3-point shots.

Villanova doesn’t simply fire away at will. The Wildcats work the ball around the perimeter. They work it inside and out. They find open men across the court.

The Wildcats play unselfish basketball. If you’re open, you get to take the shot.

That’s another thing to love about the Wright way. There isn’t a star system.

Four different players led Villanova in scoring during the NCAA Tournament. Jalen Brunson led the Wildcats in scoring in three of their first four games, with Mikal Bridges leading them in scoring in the other game. During the Final Four, Eric Paschall scored 24 points, his highest total since leaving Fordham to come to Villanova, in the semifinals, and Donte DiVincenzo shot his way into Villanova lore with 31 points in the championship game.

The Wildcats also play tenacious defense. That’s how they defeated Texas Tech in the Elite 8. Their defense also shut down Kansas during the first half of the national semifinal, enabling the 3-point shooting to build a huge first-half lead.

Hustle, unselfishness and defense are characteristics of a Wright-led team. No wonder all except the most dedicated haters found themselves rooting for the Wildcats this year.

It’s easy to root for Villanova. Wright recruits student-athletes. He doesn’t recruit the mercurial talent who will be one-and-done after his freshman year and is unlikely to be in class after mid-February. Wright prefers players who will stick around – at least for a few years.

Mikal Bridges was a defensive specialist when Villanova won the national championship two seasons ago. He developed into one of the Wildcats’ top threats on offense. Jalen Brunson stuck around and was transformed into the national player of the year.

Not only was Brunson the national player of the year, but he was the Big East Scholar-Athlete of the Year and a second-team Academic All-American. That’s another characteristic of Wright’s program. If you don’t do your job in the classroom, you don’t get to do your job on the court.

And your job may change. Phil Booth was a dangerous scorer when Villanova won the national championship two seasons ago. This year Booth played a less prominent role, ceding the spotlight to players such as DiVincenzo, whose 31 points in the 79-62 triumph over Michigan in the national championship game Monday were more points than any player had scored off the bench in NCAA Final Four history.

Basketball is a team game in Wright’s system. No individual star shines brighter than the team.

Villanova plays basketball the Wright way.

And the Wright way is the right way.

Super Nova

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 2 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Once Donte DiVincenzo got in the game Monday night, head coach Jay Wright didn’t take him out. And why would he?

DiVincenzo made big shot after shot, played terrific defense and hustled after loose basketball. When the smoke had cleared from Donte’s inferno (sorry, I couldn’t resist), the redshirt sophomore guard had poured in 31 points, leading Villanova past Michigan, 79-62, to clinch the Wildcats’ second national championship in three seasons.

Monday’s victory in the NCAA Tournament final continued the Wildcats’ dominance. While other high seeds were getting knocked out early, Villanova, the top seed in the East Region, was winning by double digits. The Wildcats won all of their NCAA Tournament games by at least 12 points.

The final score Monday also indicated dominance by Villanova, but the Wildcats were behind for most of the first half. Villanova was behind, 21-14, near the midpoint of hte first half, and didn’t take the lead for good until Omari Spellman made two free throws with 5:24 remaining in the first half.

The Wolverines tried to stay close, but DiVincenzo had other ideas. He drained a long 3-pointer from the top of the key to increase Villanova’s lead to 28-24. At that point, DiVincenzo had all three of the Wildcats’ 3-pointers, a huge change from the first half of Villanova’s semifinal victory over Kansas, when the Wildcats made 13 3-pointers in the first half. Michigan answerd with a basket, but DiVincenzo drove to the basket for a layup, drawing a foul along the way. He then slammed home a dunk on a nice feed from Jalen Brunson. DiVincenzo found Spellman for a dunk on the next possession, forcing Michigan to call a timeout with 1:24 remaining until halftime.

After the timeout, DiVincenzo blocked a shot, wedging the ball between the backboard and the rim. Possession went to Villanova, which used a 3-pointer by Brunson to take a 37-28 lead into halftime.

DiVincenzo, who entered the game after three minutes, scored 18 of the Wildcats’ 37 first-half points, matching his first-half total during Villanova’s second-round victory over Alabama. While the rest of the team was cold from the floor during the first half against Michigan, DiVincenzo made 7 of 10 shots from the field, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. The difference is that he didn’t score during the second half against Alabama. He scored 13 much-needed points Monday during the second half against the Wolverines.

Mikal Bridges, with 19 points, was the only other Villanova player in double figures, so the Wildcats needed DiVincenzo to score during the second half. Brunson, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth all picked up their fourth foul during the second half, so Villanova relied on DiVincenzo for offensive production.

Actually, Villanova relied on DiVincenzo all over the floor. He made a nice steal of an entry pass to the low post and then, on the next Michigan possession, DiVincenzo went straight up for a beautiful blocked shot.

The Wildcats led by 15 points when Brunson, the national player of the year, picked up his fourth foul with 10:51 remaining in the second half. The Wolverines appeared to find some momentum, cutting the Villanova lead to 56-44. But DiVincenzo cut that momentum short with two long 3-pointers from the high left side of the key, pushing the lead up to 62-44.

After Brunson went to the bench with his fourth foul, DiVincenzo scored 11 straight Villanova points. Whether it was a crucial juncture during the first half or putting a halt to Michigan’s attempt to build momentum during the second half, DiVincenzo came through when Villanova needed him the most.

And you could say that about the entire national championship game. DiVincenzo came through when the Wildcats needed him the most.

Maurice Cheeks enters Hall of Fame