To say that this past season was a success is an understatement. The Villanova Wildcats went from being the laughing stock of the nation, having seen far too many early tournament exits, to national champions. That being said, repeating is one of the most difficult things to do in sports. A target will be placed on the Cats every time they set foot on the court. They have two options: crack under the pressure or shine like stars. Here are five reasons why I believe Villanova will cut down the nets again in 2017.
1. Veteran Leadership
This year’s Wildcats team will return a core group of players vital to the championship run last season. Three of the five starters from the 2015-16 team will be back, including All-American, Josh Hart, and 3-point sharpshooter, Kris Jenkins. Hart was 2nd in the Big East in field goal percentage, while Jenkins led the conference in 3-pointers made. Hart was also named the 2016-17 Big East Preseason Player of the Year. In the mix for a starting position this year will also be tournament defensive standout, Mikal Bridges, and national championship star, Phil Booth. Both players have proven that they can deliver in high-pressure scenarios.
2. Free Throw Shooting
In the 2015-16 season, Villanova ranked 2nd in the nation in free throw percentage, making 78.2% of their shots from the charity stripe. This statistic can make or break a team in crunch time. They only ranked 89th in free throws attempted, but their ability to convert helped them to be ranked 27th in free throws made.
Coach Wright managed to turn a hot-seat into a golden throne. Following the 2015 Round of 32 exit at the hands of NC State, there were calls for a new coach, but Villanova trusted their coach. It sure payed off for them. Another Big East regular season title, a National Coach of the Year Award, and a national championship trophy to top it all off. Wright has been coaching the Cats since 2001, and has established himself amongst the nation’s mastermind strategists.
There aren’t statistics that quantify hustle. It isn’t a pretty thing, but all players respect it. Villanova players pride themselves on out hustling their opponents. It is a common sight to see Wildcats leaping the scorers’ table or team benches to save a loose ball. Frequently, teams that are outmatched in talent can win games by making hustle plays. The Wildcats may not always have the most talented players, but they will always be the team that wants to win more.
5. Protecting the Ball
Another crucial part of a championship run is the ability to value each and every possession. The Wildcats put on a clinic in this category. They ranked 260th in the nation in turnovers, allowing them to put together quality possessions and limit the time of possession of their opposition. At the same time, they ranked 13th in the nation in steals, further increasing their number of possessions.
All stats from Sports-Reference College Basketball
Picture from thebiglead.com