Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Best Villanova Basketball Team of My Lifetime* (*I Was Born in 1986)

It's been a while. I haven't posted on Nova News in four years, but like Barry Bonds, I never officially retired. I just kind of stopped. Wait, why did I just compare myself to Barry Bonds? My hiatus had nothing to do with drugs, performance enhancing or otherwise. I wasn't on PEDs while writing all those blog posts, unless you count caffeine. Though I may have been drunk when I wrote some posts. (I still believe in you, Scottie!) Anyway, I had to return to the blog to write about this years basketball team.

The 2014-2015 Villanova Wildcats are hands-down the best Nova basketball team I've seen since I started following the school my freshmen year in 2004-05. In that time, I saw a Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham led team go to the Final Four in 2009. I saw the #1-seeded 2005-06 team, which was even better than the '09 Final Four team, though they only made it to the elite eight. The '06 team, unfortunately, had the misfortune of running into the juggernaut Florida Gators team full of future NBA stars like Al Horford, Joakim Noah, and Corey Brewer. That '06 Nova team had plenty of NBA talent itself as well. Randy Foye was a lottery pick and has been a solid NBA veteran guard. Allan Ray went undrafted but spent some time with the Celtics. Freshman Dante Cunningham didn't play much on that team, but he's gone on to be a backup power forward in the league. Finally, there was my sophomore year classmate and 2015 NBA All-Star Game starter, Kyle Lowry.

I don't know if this year's team has any future NBA stars. Darrun Hilliard is probably the best player on the team right now. He definitely has the skill and basketball IQ to play at the next level. The only thing that may hold him back is his lack of speed and athleticism.

JayVaughn Pinkston has been a favorite player of mine since he stepped on campus (and knocked a drunk frat boy out), and he'd be a sure-fire NBA power forward if he was only a few inches taller. But alas, he's stuck at 6'7.

Ryan Arcidiacono is a classic college guard, who's been playing so well this year that the announcers have actually learned how to pronounce his last name correctly. Sadly, I don't think Adam Silver will be mispronouncing his name on draft night.

Daniel Ochefu and Josh Hart may be the best pro prospects on the team. You can't teach Ochefu's height and athleticism, and he is only getting better and better. Josh Hart is young and still a little raw, but has the size and athleticism to be a two-way two-guard in the NBA, like Jimmy Butler or Wes Matthews.

Dylan Ennis probably won't join his little brother in the NBA. Kris Jenkins is a sharp-shooting stretch-four, but needs to improve the other areas of his game. As for Phil Booth, who knows. It's too early to tell how good he can be.

All of that is in the future, though, and doesn't really matter for Villanova's chances in the 2015 NCAA Tournament. You can argue whether this team has NBA talent or not, but regardless, they are loaded with NCAA talent.

This Big East isn't the same Big East as when I was in school, but it's still a strong conference, and Villanova cruised through the schedule like it was the America East. Nova was San Antonio Spurs-like in the way they made the game look so easy, to the point that it was almost boring. That is, boring if you find great team basketball played the right way, boring.

The thing that strikes me most about this team is their chemistry. I know it's a cliche that the announcers have repeated 1,745,386 times during the broadcasts, but these players really do pass up good open shots for better open shots. No one is selfish and out for their stats. They have no signature alpha-dog, but six players average over nine points a game, and any one of them is capable of leading the team with 20+ points on any given night (all six of them already have). Putting on my "Bill Simmons Body Language Doctor" glasses, everybody on the team looks like they genuinely like each other, both on and off the court, and they seem to be having a lot of fun together.

Like every Jay Wright team, the 2015 Wildcats have great guards, shoot the three, and play hard on defense, but unlike every Jay Wright team of the past, this years squad actually has a legitimate inside presence. JayVaughn Pinkston may be an undersized power forward, but he is strong and is one of the few players these days with a true offensive post game. But the big difference maker for this team is Daniel Ochefu. He's not some undersized three masquerading as a power forward. He's a legit 6'11 center. He's the best Jay Wright big man since... ever, really. And the best Villanova big man since Ed Pinckney. D-Chef plays both ways, his post game is constantly improving, he's been a beast on the boards (pulled down 24 in one game this season), and he's a legit shot blocker and defensive presence in the paint. Ochefu is the piece that all those great "Guard U" teams were missing. Now we have our stud big man, plus the great guards. The only real weakness of the team is backup center if Ochefu gets into foul trouble, though even in that case, the team can go small with Pinkston at the five, which will work against most teams.

That 2005-06 Villanova team may have been a #1-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a lot of experts doubted their title chances because they were too small. Ultimately that team did fall... short. The 2015 #1-seeded Wildcats, however, have no nits to be picked by the experts. Nova is a legitimate contender for the national title. The biggest hurdle that stands in their way is, once again, another SEC juggernaut team full of future NBA stars: Kentucky. If the two Wildcat teams make it to the championship game, it may be a David vs. Goliath situation. Then again, Villanova knows a thing or two about slaying Goliaths.