NCAA hoops has become a young ballers game. The center of the college basketball conversation has been the NBA-bound trio of Duke freshman and their journey towards a National Championship. On the other hand, Villanova — winner of two of the last three college titles — is a thriving example of a hoops program whose modern dominance is driven by old college principles of senior leadership, teamwork, sacrifice and consistency.
On Saturday night, Nova rode those principles and the leadership of seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to a record third-straight Big East championship with a thrilling 74-72 win over Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.
Phil Booth put his heart into this tournament for @NovaMBB! The redshirt senior is the #BigEastHoops Most Outstanding Player! 🏆 https://t.co/fdFDUYMQ5i
Those same seniors are why the Wildcats will be favored by some to reach the National Title game again.
Nova’ was supposed to be entering a down year after losing four stars from last year’s title squad. Back in November, after a string of losses, those bleak predictions seemed spot on. Villanova dropped out of the Top 25 for the first time since December 2013 after gettiing routed by Michigan 73-46 in a rematch of last season’s national championship game and getting beaten 76-68 in overtime by unheralded Furman.
In the end, the experts underestimated Villanova’s maturity and continuity — a combination that most elite college basketball programs don’t have these days.
“It’s been a rocky season but we have two seniors who have been like coaches on his team, ” said Nova coach Jay Wright. “They’ve taught their young teammates how to play Villanova basketball and they have led us…the coaching staff… and we can’t thank them for their leadership enough.”
We just had great leadership from Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, just keeping the guys together” -Coach Wright #LetsMarchNova #BEtourney https://t.co/nzZJyYperf
Wright’s program has a reputation for developing players, rather than picking from the country’s ready-made blue chippers and trying to create one-and-done magic with a group of studs who have no intention of staying at the school and building something special.
This Villanova team is a blend of OG’s and young talent, proving that a balanced roster is always in play come tournament time.
“We just continue growing,” said Booth, who finished with 16 points and the Big East Tournament MVP Trophy. “We have a young team, a lot of guys buying in …and I’m happy for them. It’s a big win for us right now hopefully we build off of it (in the NCAA Tournament).”
PHIL BOOTH from downtown 🎯 #LetsMarchNova #BEtourney https://t.co/ifHQMJLOQT
Paschall, the Fordham transfer who averaged 16.3 ppg and 7.7 rebounds in this 2019 tournament, took the lessons of last year’s title and applied them to this season. Paschall said the difficulties the team faced throughout this season only brought them together and made them a stronger unit.
Paschall with the strong drive 💪 #LetsMarchNova #BEtourney https://t.co/jKUzfkzxjm
“Going through those losses and having a group of young guys that really didn’t know (what to expect)…,” Paschall said. “But me and Phil did a good job just teaching them and they did a great job (responding).”
Booth’s ability to teach, came from being a student of adversity himself. His sophomore and redshirt seasons were hampered by a leg injury. Last year he missed several games with a broken hand.
Despite the setbacks, in 2016, Booth displayed wicked skills and the heart of champion, when he came off the bench to score 20 points and lead Nova to a win over North Carolina in the National Championship game. Booth was the understudy to guys like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Arcidiacono.
Phil Booth drops 20 points as Villanova wins the National Championship over North Carolina in the 2016 NCAA Tournament. Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2016 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.
Then last season booth was a solid contributor to a title team that featured College Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and NBA draft picks Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman.
Booth, a fifth-year senior, was finally given full control of the Nova offense this season. He averaged a team-high 18.7 ppg and conducted himelf with the class and clutchness he learned from upperclassmen who preceeded him. Tonight’s Big East tourney win, is Booth’s indelible mark on the storied program.
Next stop for Villanova is the NCAA Championship. Wright will rely on his seniors and a system that puts a premium on player development rather than microwaved greatness, hoping to prove once again that the strongest tournament teams are developed over time like a fine wine.