SO, WHERE TO NOW?
Two years ago, the only two questions Villanova fans were asking were when are the Wildcats getting back to another Final Four and when are they going to actually win the national title?
And why not? They'd just reached the Final Four for the first time in a quarter-century, after going to a Sweet 16 the previous March, a Final Eight in 2006 and the Sweet 16 in '05.
Well, these days they mostly want to know how come Jay Wright forgot how to do his job?
That's what happens when you flame-out at the end of a season for the second straight year.
Welcome to the reality of the world we live in. Hey, the North Carolina folks were all over Roy Williams a year ago. After he won it all in 2009, for the second time in 4 years.
Villanova has made it to the NCAA Tournament 7 consecutive years. The only other Big East team that can say that is Pittsburgh. And the Panthers have been to the third round only twice in that span. Louisville just lost its second straight opener. Syracuse went to the NIT in 2007 and '08 after going one-and-done in the four-letter tourney in '05 and '06. And Michigan State of the Big Ten went from being No. 2 in the country at the start of the season to out in the first round as a 10 seed.
It happens, even to the best. Judging from the emails, it's not supposed to happen on the Main Line. And I get that. Things ended badly, again. Actually, this finish was even harder to digest. And Wright has to share the responsibility for that, just as he deserves some of the credit for those runs.
I'm merely suggesting that a little perspective never hurts.
Because the truth usually lies somewhere in between. As far as I can tell, there are only about 320 programs that would trade places with Villanova. Mostly because of what Wright has helped re-establish.
Remember, we are talking about a team that won three NCAA games - all in the first round, against Princeton, Portland and Long Island - from 1989-2004.
If you don't think Wright is very good at what he does, you haven't been paying attention. That doesn't mean he can't be scrutinized, especially for the way he's run his offense through his guards at the expense of the inside game. It is predictable and can be painful to watch when it isn't working. But it was successful when he had Randy Foye and Allan Ray and Scottie Reynolds. Turns out Corey Fisher wasn't Scottie Reynolds. That happens, too, despite the projections.
I don't know why Mouphtaou Yarou didn't produce more in the last 6 weeks. But when you try something enough times and don't see results, the tendency is to stop trying and revert to what's worked before. Maybe that has to change, although I'm not sure that's Wright's style.
I think he's a guy who believes in what he's doing, and just feels that he has to figure out a way to do it better. And based on his body of work, he should get the benefit of the doubt that he understands what is best for that system.
If he misses the tourney, say, 2 years in a row, maybe he should feel the heat. Until then, it's fair enough to be upset that he's not still going deeper into the Madness. We'll have to see if it's simply cyclical or habit-forming.
Wright always talks about the next game. Now, that's 8 months away. My biggest problem with the latest finish was the way they seemed to accept it, at least outwardly. They kept stressing positives and confidence when it sure seemed like doubt was an issue. I almost wanted someone to pound a fist on a table and yell that they were upset and weren't going to take it anymore. But maybe that just wasn't their make-up. I don't think Dwayne Anderson or Dante Cunningham would have let it unfold like this in 2009. That bunch had that elusive it. Who knows why, for sure.
The line can be that fine.
Maybe this group really was as close to being good as they claimed. Or maybe things weren't right for any number of reasons that included injuries, and saying the right things became their way of sticking together. Others, of course, might see it as denial.
Anyway . . .
Looking ahead through what figures to be a lengthy, introspective offseason, next season's squad will be seniorless. Maalik Wayns needs to be more consistent with his decisions. It's his team now. Yarou obviously needs to make strides, as does Dominic Cheek. James Bell should be healthy from the start, and JayVaughn Pinkston should be back after missing a year.
There's four newcomers, including two wing men, a ballhandler and a big. The only certainty is the expectations won't be high. The last time that happened, 3 years ago, they improbably got to a Sweet 16. Sometimes, it goes that way, too. *
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