To say Jay Wright and the Villanova Wildcats had a successful season last year would be an understatement.
Wright's Wildcats finished 27-4 in the regular season, with all four losses coming at the hands of teams that were ranked at the time: Oklahoma, Virginia, Providence, and Xavier. For his efforts, the 54-year-old was named Naismith College Coach of the Year, marking the second time in his illustrious career that he won the award. Villanova was the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament, but fell in the championship game to the rejuvenated Seton Hall Pirates.
However, Wright and the Wildcats would come ready to play just in time for the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats were awarded a No. 2 seed, and cruised their way to the Regional Final in Louisville. They defeated UNC Asheville, Iowa, Miami (FL) all by an average margin of victory of 24 points. They then narrowly defeated No. 1 seed Kansas 64-59 in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four.
In Houston, they were matched up with Naismith College Player of the Year Buddy Hield, who the Wildcats lost to in the regular season. However, this time around, things were much different. The Wildcats outplayed the Sooners from the tip, and annihilated them by a final score of 95-51. The 44-point margin was the largest ever in a Final Four game.
The title game was a memorable one, and it is a moment the fans, players, and staff will cherish for the rest of their lives. They were matched up with the tough North Carolina Tar Heels, and were involved in a very tight battle the entire game. With 1:52 left, Villanova held a six point lead, but Marcus Paige and company would fight back, as he hit a tough game-tying 3-pointer with just 4.7 seconds left.
After a timeout, Wright drew up a play, as Ryan Arcidiacono dribbled the ball all the way up the court, handing the ball off to Kris Jenkins behind the three-point line, who would connect with the shot of his life. Jenkins nailed a shot from deep at the buzzer, clinching the title for Wright and the Wildcats. It was the second national title in school history, and the first since 1985.
It was a season Wright will never forget, but his focus is now on looking to defend that title. This year, he will have a much bigger challenge in his 16th season as the Wildcats' head coach. Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu were huge pieces in last year's title run, and both of those players have graduated.
Many key pieces from the run will be returning to Villanova, most notably Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart, who both opted to pass on the NBA Draft to return for their senior seasons. Other key contributors returning to the team include Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, and Darryl Reynolds, as well as adding Fordham transfer Eric Paschall.
Wright will rely on Brunson to play a huge role this season, as the sophomore will be a big piece of the puzzle filling in for the loss of Arcidiacono. Booth will also get a much bigger role, as he will likely be a full-time starter this season after starting just three games in the 2015-2016 season. Reynolds will likely be Ochefu's filler in the starting lineup, as the senior averaged 3.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game backing up Ochefu.
All of last season, the Wildcats were known for their dominance in 3-point shooting and transition play. Villanova connected with 347 treys last year, shooting 36.2 percent from beyond the arc. Arcidiacono had 76 of those 3-pointers, second to only Jenkins, who had 100. Look for Wright to rely on the 3-ball once again this year, as it worked tremendously last season.
Villanova's expectations will be similar to what they were last season. Many expect Wright and the Wildcats to win the Big East Tournament, though they fell short last season after taking the title in 2015. They will certainly be viewed as championship contenders once again, and will look to be the first team in NCAA history to become back-to-back NCAA Tournament Champions since Florida in 2007.
This season will be huge for Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats, as they will look to prove the doubters wrong once again.