I received an interesting e-mail from a UConn fan the other day, after I wrote how Villanova was one of only two teams, with North Carolina and Memphis being the others, that had now made it to the Sweet 16 in four of the last five years.
I also duly noted that UNC and Memphis had made it to Final Fours in that time, and either won or nearly won the whole thing. But the UConn e-mailer basically told me that 'Nova was a fraud program, because UConn had won two titles and sent numerous guys to the pros, etc. I don’t think he gets it. In fact, I know he doesn’t.
I wasn’t suggesting that Nova is one of the greatest programs in America. I was just pointing out the facts. Jay Wright has done a great job of putting the Wildcats back where they belong. Are they as good as UConn, Pitt or Louisville? Maybe not. I know they almost won at UConn, did beat Pitt and nearly beat Louisville in the first meeting before losing the second after being tied at 50 with 8 minutes to go.
I don’t know if Wright is ever going to make a Final Four. Or win it all. Maybe he’ll do one or even both this year. Maybe he won’t keep going to Sweet 16 after Sweet 16, either. The point is, 'Nova is once again a really good program. A relevant program. Probably not quite as elite as Nova Nation would like to believe. But an accomplishment is an accomplishment. Any time you can say you did something that only UNC and Memphis did is pretty noteworthy in my book.
Maybe UConn will cut the nets for the third time in a decade, and I’ll get more e-mails from up there. They should be proud of their program, too. That doesn’t mean that 'Nova somehow doesn’t measure up, because it hasn’t won any rings since 1985. I’m not a 'Nova basher or a 'Nova lover. I’m just a guy covering a team. A very good team. A team that’s fun to watch. With a bunch of players and a coach who are a pleasure to be around. If that’s not something to be proud of, too, then I’m in the wrong line of work. Sorry.
Villanova may never be at quite the same level as the UNCs and Dukes of the food chain. So what? Wright has one of the best recruiting classes coming in next season. Doesn’t mean he’s going to get a constant stream of McDonald’s All-Americans. Whatever the outcome of Thursday’s game, Duke is going to get most of the players Duke wants. Just because. Which kind of makes 'Nova’s accomplishments all the more noteworthy.
I kind of understand where the UConn e-mailer was coming from. Doesn’t make it right.
It’s the company you keep. Right now, 'Nova’s keeping some pretty solid company. Don’t assume for one moment that it doesn’t belong, regardless of how far it goes in this tournament. Or how far anyone else goes.