In the history of men’s college basketball, we’ve seen some pretty incredible tournament runs. Whether it’s teams going against the odds to win the title, powerhouse teams running through the bracket, or dominant players carrying their schools to new heights, the NCAA Tournament has provided plenty of unforgettable and impressive streaks by eventual national champions.
While it’s difficult to say that any one March Madness run is above the rest, what the 2015-16 national champion Villanova Wildcats did this March was equal parts entertaining and historical. Behind an impressive roster filled with juniors and seniors, Jay Wright’s Wildcats found a way to beat the North Carolina Tar Heels on Monday night, thanks in large part to a Kris Jenkins buzzer-beater at the end of the game.
While Villanova was the two-seed and a slight underdog in the national title race, their excellent play throughout the tournament makes it no surprise that they cut down the nets. No matter what adversities they encountered, the Wildcats displayed a strength and confidence that led them to the title. Let’s review just how great Villanova’s March run was, so we can see where it ranks in the annals of the NCAA Tournament.
Display of dominance
During most of the Wildcats’ tournament run, they were simply dominant. Round one against UNC Asheville saw them win by 30 points. Round two — against a much stiffer opponent in Iowa — produced a 19-point difference. One would think that things would have gotten tougher for the team in the Sweet 16 against a solid Miami team, but Nova dominated the Hurricanes by 23 points.
Of course, the Wildcats’ exceptional play didn’t stop there. After a tough game against Kansas in the Elite Eight, Villanova took the floor against an Oklahoma team that was highly ranked all season long in the national semifinals. The result? A 44-point dismantling of the Sooners, which served as the biggest win in the history of the Final Four.
All of those dominant performances made the Wildcats a serious force to be reckoned with throughout the entire tournament. This created the momentum they needed to carry the team to their second national title in school history.
Beating the best
The fact that Villanova won the championship is impressive enough. Winning six tournament games isn’t easy for any team, no matter who the competition is. However, the slate of teams that the Wildcats beat throughout their run is as impressive a group of schools that a team has ever had to battle against to win the title.
It started in the second round when Villanova beat the Iowa Hawkeyes. While Iowa didn’t play their best entering the game, the Hawkeyes were a top-five team for a majority of the season before fading down the stretch. The way that the Wildcats handled them is more credit toward the greatness of Villanova rather than to the late-season struggles of Iowa.
In the Sweet 16, the opponent was a Miami team ranked within the top 10 for the much of the year; they finished the regular season as one of the top schools in a loaded ACC. Of course, the Wildcats made the Hurricanes look like they didn’t even belong on the same court. Then, the competition got stiff for Villanova in the Elite Eight, as the Kansas Jayhawks stood in their path. In a classic battle, the Wildcats proved once again that they can beat anyone on any given night.
Once in the Final Four in Houston, Villanova again had to play one of the best teams that the country had to offer. Oklahoma was consistently ranked No. 1 throughout the season and never fell out of the top 10 — but they looked like they belonged in the NIT when they faced the Wildcats.
In what became an instant classic showdown, Villanova knocked out another top team in North Carolina to cap off their run. In their last three games, the Wildcats essentially beat three No. 1 seeds (Oklahoma was as good a two-seed as there was this season), even though they were underdogs in all three matchups. They say you have to beat the best to win a championship. Villanova did just that.
Clutch as can be
While the Wildcats were often dominant throughout their run, they needed clutch plays in both the Kansas game and North Carolina game to keep their championship chase alive. Against the Jayhawks, they found themselves down in the second half and facing a battle. However, with critical steals in the final minute and clutch free throws in the waning seconds, they held off Kansas to secure the win.
We saw what Kris Jenkins did at the buzzer to beat the Tar Heels, but before that shot, the Wildcats had to make clutch free throws to fend off the Tar Heels’ furious push down the stretch and even have a chance to hit a last-second three. Nova also found themselves down at halftime, but with clutch play on offense and defense, they seized control and found a way to win in the end.
A group of upperclassmen led by Jenkins, Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, and Daniel Ochefu fueled this title for Villanova. They proved that they were willing to do whatever it takes to add this significant achievement to their collegiate resumes and deliver a long-awaited championship for head coach Jay Wright.
Whether they were blowing teams off the floor, making clutch plays on offense, or coming up with huge defensive plays, the Wildcats’ run this March was a display of excellence; one the sport hasn’t seen in several seasons. While perhaps not the greatest streak ever, Villanova’s title run in 2015-16 should always be remembered as one of the best in the history of the game.