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College Basketball Has Entered the Age of Villanova

After dominating Michigan to win their second national title in three years, head coach Jay Wright’s Wildcats have done more than just regain their spot atop the sport. They’ve cemented their status as a dynasty.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

One of the greatest runs in NCAA tournament history concluded with a national championship on Monday night, as Villanova won its second title in three seasons by beating Michigan 79-62. This year’s tournament produced many memorable stories, including Sister Jean and the Cinderella Loyola-Chicago team, UMBC’s historic 16-over-1 upset against Virginia, and the time Ot Elmore stole our hearts during Marshall’s second-round loss to West Virginia. But now that a sense of finality has set in, I can definitively say that I will remember the 2018 tournament most for Villanova’s sustained and absolute dominance. The Wildcats won all six of their games by 12 or more points (and covered the spread in each) despite facing a nearly chalk lineup of opponents: a no. 16 seed (Radford), no. 9 seed (Alabama), no. 5 seed (West Virginia), no. 3 seed (Texas Tech), no. 1 seed (Kansas), and another no. 3 seed (Michigan). I mean this in the most respectful way possible, but the Cats’ run to the title was so remarkable it was almost boring. There was such an overwhelming sense of inevitability every time Villanova took the court that I got some serious Are we sure UConn is good for women’s basketball? vibes.

That same feeling existed heading into Monday’s national title matchup with Michigan. The consensus seemed to be that Villanova would cruise to a comfortable win, not so much because of any shortcomings the Wolverines had, but more because the Cats might possess the single most unstoppable offense in college basketball history. That much was clear to anyone who watched Villanova paste Kansas 95-79 in Saturday’s national semifinal, a game that was all but over as soon as it started and saw the Cats hit a Final Four–record 18 3-pointers.

Michigan did all it could to slow down Villanova in the first half, jumping out to a 21-14 lead. Looking back, it almost feels like the Cats purposely let the Wolverines start strong. It’s like they were giving everyone time to call their friends and family to tell them about the surprise that was unfolding, and once they felt they had America’s collective attention, they tightened up on defense, unleashed Donte DiVincenzo, and went on a 37-12 run to leave Michigan in the dust. On the strength of DiVincenzo’s career-high 31 points off the bench, Villanova became the first team in 50 years to win both its Final Four games by 16 or more points. National player of the year Jalen Brunson went 4-of-13 from the field and finished with twice as many fouls as he had assists … and Villanova still blew out one of the hottest teams in the country with the biggest trophy in the sport on the line. That is completely bonkers.

And if I can be selfish for a second, I’ll also admit that it feels a little unsatisfying. This Villanova team was so damn good that watching it win a national championship without having to break a sweat was anticlimactic. It’s like I just witnessed someone stack his roster in a video game, turn the difficulty level down to beginner, and then simulate six straight contests. I know the “Could the best team in college basketball beat the worst team in the NBA?” debate was beaten to death with Kentucky and the 76ers in 2015, but that’s kind of where I’m at with Villanova. It doesn’t matter that the Suns would wipe the floor with the Wildcats. I just want to be reminded of what it looks like to see Villanova basketball players struggle so I can be certain that this was a team comprised of actual human beings and not robots who have been programmed to get buckets.

This, of course, would have all sounded unbelievable as recently as three years ago, given the perception of Villanova’s program then. I’ve made this same point a million different times on a million different platforms in the past couple of weeks, but I’m going to keep repeating it until it stops being amazing: Wildcats coach Jay Wright was thought of as one of the sport’s biggest choke artists in 2015. He was known as the handsome guy who wore nice suits and won a ton of regular-season games before inevitably bowing out in the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, whether to Saint Mary’s or George Mason or NC State. And yet, in what feels like the snap of a finger, Wright has transformed into a savant now regarded as the best head coach in the game. This is more of an indictment on how easily people get sucked into being prisoners of the moment than it is proof that Wright has made some sort of drastic change. But still: The last few years for Wright and Villanova should serve as a powerful reminder that college basketball fates can change at a moment’s notice.

For now, it seems Villanova’s fate is to have the closest thing to a dynasty that the college basketball world has seen since North Carolina’s stretch from 2004-05 to 2008-09. The Wildcats have averaged 33 wins per season over the past five years while taking home four regular-season Big East titles, three Big East tournament titles, and two national championships. (By comparison, Duke and North Carolina have combined to win two regular-season ACC titles, two ACC tournament titles, and two national championships in that same span.) Where the program goes from here will be contingent to some degree on who declares for the NBA draft, as every Villanova player who took the floor on Monday has eligibility remaining. Mikal Bridges will almost certainly go, Brunson will likely leave too, and even DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman could test the waters. As things stand now, though, it seems likely that the Wildcats’ starting lineup for the 2018-19 opener will feature DiVincenzo, Spellman, Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and five-star point guard recruit Jahvon Quinerly.

In other words, if you’ve found yourself annoyed by Villanova’s dominance, I have some bad news for you: College basketball’s newest dynasty isn’t going anywhere.