Not Your Father’s National Championship Game

The only thing similar between this game and the 1985 one was the winner. Great games are defined by their endings, and the 2016 National Championship Game ending may never be matched. As writers search for story lines in the rubble of one of chaos following one of the all time greats, there’s one narrative you shouldn’t buy. These Wildcats were no great underdogs.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

In 1985, the Georgetown Hoyas were seemingly unstoppable, yet they were toppled by the plucky upstart Villanova Wildcats. The coaches in that game personified the teams-the looming behemoth that was the 6’10 John Thompson the Second, against the diminutive, frantic Rollie Massimino and his disheveled curly grey hair. Those Wildcats defied all predictions-and the law of averages-en route to the greatest upset in college basketball history. That team made Villanova relevant in the national picture of college basketball, but the fact of the matter is they overachieved during that game.

(Photographer not given)

This  2016 group was no rag tag bunch of lovable underdogs. Perhaps not every player was a one and done lottery pick a la Duke 2015, but every contributing player was at least a four star recruit coming out of high school. Jalen Brunson was considered the best point guard in the class of 2015. Don’t let Ryan Arcidiacono’s gritty play style and intense effort fool you into thinking he’s some sort of Rudy character. This guy was a Top-50 player in the class of 2012. Even the now immortal Kris Jenkins, who described himself as a “chubby kid from D.C.” and by some reports was only recruited for his brother, still managed to pick up offers from Xavier, Miami and Clemson among others to go along with his Villanova offer.

(Photographer not given)

In some terms, unless your school mascot is a Blue Devil, anyone will always be an underdog against North Carolina because the Tar Heels have been college basketball’s most consistent model of excellence on the court over the past thirty years. One might venture to say that they have been the most consistent collegiate sports team over that same time span. The brand built in Chapel Hill ensures that a championship will be within reach every few years.

(Photographer not given/Yahoo Sports)

Undersized. Maybe underrated. But not underdogs.

This Villanova team sat at the top of the AP Poll as the Number One team in the land for three weeks this year, the longest time for any one team save the Michigan State Spartans. Yes, those Michigan State Spartans that lost to Middle Tennessee State, which many people found out was a real college this March.

None of that should take away from the incredible game the Wildcats played. North Carolina had been among the worst 3 point shooting teams in the country heading into Monday’s game. Out of nowhere, the Tar Heels started to find the bottom of the net like they were the Golden State Warriors, hitting 7 of 9 in the first half. Still, Villanova was within 5 at the break despite the out of character eruption from long range and foul trouble for Jenkins, who had been the team’s leading scorer throughout the second half of the season.

(Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

What is spectacular, what should be celebrated is the manner in which Villanova won that game. Nova and UNC flipped the script as Nova played tough interior defense and led in points in the paint, while UNC discovered that if you make a basket beyond the arc it’s worth more points than a shot inside said arc. Villanova is known as “guard u” and plays an unconventional lineup with just one true big man, but they won the national championship in the most tried and true fashion-dominating inside, team defense, rebounding, and playing unselfish basketball.

Unselfish basketball. That’s what allowed Villanova sweep through Big East play at 16-2. That’s what allowed them to dominate on offense throughout the first three games. It’s what allowed them to grind out a dog fight in the trenches against a battle tested Kansas team. It’s what exercised their Oklahoma demons as the Wildcats eviscerated the Sooners in a hide-the-children Final Four beat down.

(Ronald Martinez/ Fox Sports)

It’s what shut down Jared Utoff, Sheldon McClellan, Perry Ellis, Buddy Hield and Brice Johnson. It’s what allowed Daniel Ochefu to miss a dunk, grab his own rebound and finish it the second time-because he knew 6’5 Josh Hart would be battling inside with him, boxing out players with half a foot on him and fighting for boards.

Unselfish basketball is what allowed Mikal Bridges and Phil Booth to do their best Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid impressions, both racking up steals because they knew Daniel Ochefu had their backs inside and they could gamble for possession.

It’s what allowed Phil Booth, the sophomore guard who had struggled to maintain his high efficiency freshman success in his expanded role his sophomore year to explode for 20 points because his teammates trusted him and rode the hot hand.

(Photographer not given)

Ultimately, unselfish basketball-referred to as “Villanova Basketball” by the players and coaches-is what allowed Villanova to miss key free throws down the stretch, give up a prayer of a three pointer to Marcus Paige, and yet still capture a National Championship.

A four year captain was unselfish enough to give up his shot for a better one.

These weren’t underdogs. They were Wildcats.


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