The Villanova Wildcats have arguably been the best college basketball program in the country since 2016. The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the winningest program, but they haven’t closed the deal and won a national title yet.
The Wildcats on the other hand have won two and are vying to add a third this weekend in New Orleans. And it all begins with program gatekeeper Jay Wright, his leadership and adaptability.
No contemporary college basketball coach adapts better to his players’ strengths while staying current with the modern-day sport. Wright and Villanova enter their third Final Four in the past six seasons, and fifth during his tenure. They cut down the nets in 2016 and 2018.
Wright says it starts with these key ingredients from year to year.
“The things that are consistent are high character, intelligence and desire to be coached.”
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 27, 2022
Wright Has Preached Fundamentals: Team Thrives In Key Areas
This particular Wildcats team isn’t the tallest or biggest, so they do other things to compensate for the lack of size. Wright emphasizes not turning the ball over, taking quality three-point shots and being the better free throw shooting team. Those three ingredients cooked up a huge win over a strong Houston Cougars squad (50-44).
It was an ugly, defensive slugfest to reach the Final Four. The Wildcats’ swarming style had Cougars head coach Kelvin Sampson complimenting them after holding his team to a dismal 1 of 20 from three-point territory in the loss.
That and Wright’s in-game adjustments, which may be the best in the game along with Coach K (Duke) and Bill Self (Kansas).
“There’s not a lot of Villanovas. Last year, neither Duke nor Kentucky made the NCAA Tournament. A lot of programs have gone down and gone back up, but not Villanova. They’re great every year,” Sampson raved. “That’s a credit to the administration, but that administration’s lucky to have Jay Wright.”
“Wright’s an icon in the profession. He’s going to get what it takes to keep that program relevant and great.”
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) March 28, 2022
Wright Has Been Consistently Building NOVA Into A New Blood
The Wildcats enjoyed success under legendary head coach Rollie Massimino. Who can forget how Massimino lifted the program to national prominence with a massive 1985 championship game upset of John Thompson and Patrick Ewing’s Georgetown Hoyas?
What Wright has done at Nova since his arrival in 2001 is elevate the program beyond Rollie’s wildest dreams. When Massimino slayed Goliath, Nova was the longest of long shots.
Over the past seven seasons, Wright and the Wildcats are 201-44. From 2014-2018, he won at least 30 games every season, becoming the first men’s coach to do so. His Wildcats have won either the Big East regular season title, tourney title or both for nine consecutive seasons.
Jay Wright has turned a small private catholic university into a college basketball dynasty. One of the greatest coaches ever.
— Henry Eisenberg (@henryeeisenberg) March 25, 2022
How does Nova stay ahead of the game despite the challenges of recruiting on the East Coast and surviving as the lone powerhouse program in a once lethal conference?
Wright doesn’t think about all of the accolades he amasses along the way. When Wright secured his second title over Michigan in 2018, he was asked what he was most proud of about that season. His response was classic:
“I’m mostly proud to be the coach of Villanova, honestly. The wins and everything don’t matter. I know I’ll look back on it later.”
The 2021 Naismith Hall of Fame Inductee knows what buttons to push and he’s led the Villanova Wildcats to the brink of their third title in six seasons.