We are entering the first college basketball season of the past decade in which jokes concerning Villanova’s March ineptitude are no longer being allowed. Fair or not, prior to the Wildcats winning it all last season, many folks on the mean streets of Twitter would often take to their keyboards to discuss Jay Wright and crew in unflattering ways.
That was solely relative to March, though. Most normal folk knew that Nova was a good program which sometimes faltered here and there in the NCAA Tournament. Considering the Big Dance is a single-elimination tournament, trying to use that as proof of a program’s flaws was always absurd anyway.
With the Wildcats getting the figurative monkey off their back, it is now up to the university to show if it was just a one-trick pony or if the good times are about to keep on rolling.
To be clear: We are now talking about Villanova in next-level terms. The Wildcats have always been a very good program, but now that there’s a national title under their belts in the Wright era, we are raising the expectations for them … because we are fickle like that.
That next-level discussion is one we regularly save for the Kentucky Wildcats, Duke Blue Devils, North Carolina Tar Heels, Kansas Jayhawks, and other select blue bloods of the college basketball community.
What separates those blue-blood programs from the rest — the ones that are consistently good, but aren’t yearly threats for the Final Four — are the recruiting classes.
While the Wildcats won their national championship without players who gained considerable hype in high school, let this be known: If the university wants to continue its quest to become an elite-level program (which it was already incredibly close to becoming), Wright needs to go all Full Metal Jacket on the recruiting trail.
Enter the latest entry: Jermaine Samuels, a highly-regarded four-star recruit.
Samuels is Nova’s second commitment of the 2017 class. He joins Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree of Philadelphia, another four-star prospect. According to 247Sports, the Wildcats now have the 12th-best 2017 recruiting class in the nation.
That’s a pretty big deal considering that Wright’s 2016 class was somewhat underwhelming. According to the same outlet, Nova’s incoming class is only the 44th-best in the country. That’s not exactly ideal for a team trying to make success beget success.
Oddly, the 2016 class’s ranking is a bit misleading. Sure, most recruiting outlets agree that it is outside the top 25, but the conversation is far more nuanced than a ranking number. Wright is building smartly for the future, not allocating all his scholarship marbles into one recruiting basket.
Even then, this supposedly modest 2016 class features five-star big man Omari Spellman, who has the potential to be a dynamic collegiate player.
Spellman’s potential, coupled with what is already proving to be a dynamite 2017 class, offers a picture of what is truly going on with Villanova: The Cats are not going anywhere — and no one ever should have expected anything else.
Mind you, we haven’t even discussed the fact that the Wildcats are once again expected to compete near the top of the nation during the upcoming season. If that plays out according to most predictions, with at least a respectable run in the NCAA Tournament, the already sparkling 2017 recruiting class can parlay back-to-back great seasons into otherworldly dominance on the recruiting trail.
This is the case for many other programs who attain absurd levels of greatness for a season or two. The Oregon Ducks offer a representative example. A good program by any measure, UO needs to show the best high school players in the country that its greatness can be sustained and isn’t predicated on the play of one or two guys.
Basically, it’s the age-old argument: Is it the program that is great or the coach and players who created it? Also, can the former be great after one-half of the latter leaves?
We are reaching that portion of our discussion with Villanova.
Most admit that Wright is a great coach. We also readily agree that the VU program has had good players over the course of the last decade.
Is the program elite on par with Kentucky, Duke and UNC? All involved need to keep succeeding at a high level in Philadelphia, even though Villanova just obtained the national title, the hardest thing to get in the sport.
Yes, Villanova has earned its place in the top tier of the sport, but save for Big East die-hards, many casual college basketball fans still refuse to put Nova in the discussion with the other blue bloods.
That’s where guys like Spellman and Samuels come in.
As of right now, both are merely “names” we see on recruiting service websites, but landing them and players of their ilk — time after time — only affirms the idea that Nova is a next-level program.
Spellman and Samuels still have to play on the court to prove their worth, but other high school recruits’ realities are often based on perceptions. If we — fans and media — start talking about the Wildcats in bigger terms, the recruits begin to notice and think of Villanova the same way.
This continued off-court success, coming fresh off a national title and a presumably great 2016-’17 season, only helps fuel those projections — which allow Wright to continue to succeed at the highest level.