Jerardi: Villanova shows sustained excellence in Big 5 and beyond

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Jay Wright has coached Villanova to a nearly unprecedented level of success in the Big 5.

WHEN A PERIOD of what seems like unprecedented excellence is sustained season after season, perspective is often difficult to get, because eras are so hard to compare. After Villanova finished off its fourth consecutive unbeaten City Series season, winning the 16 games by a 21-point average, I decided to look back to see whether anything in city history compared. I really don't think anything does, but here is what I found.

Keep in mind that Villanova's four-year run has somewhere from 22 to 29 games left in it, 20 regular season and at least one (and almost certainly more) in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. So far, the Wildcats are a ridiculous 108-13. Thus, there is a chance they could win 130 games in four seasons.

Back in the day, teams played far fewer games. The Tom Gola La Salle teams went 102-19 in his four seasons, with an NIT title, an NCAA title and an NCAA runner-up, a dazzling résumé in any era. Gola's last season was the season before the Big 5 became a formal entity.

The closest city dominance came by the great Penn teams from 1969 to 1974, five seasons when they went 19-1 in the Big 5 and 121-19 overall, two seasons with Dick Harter and three with Chuck Daly. Those Quakers went 78-6 in their best three seasons and had major Big 5 stars in Corky Calhoun, Bob Morse and Phil Hankinson. The only loss in an official Big 5 game was to Temple, 57-52, on Dec. 18, 1971, right in the middle of the City Series run. I won't remind Penn fans of the loss after 28-0 in 1970-71.

John Chaney's Temple teams went 140-23 and 16-4 in the Big 5 over five seasons from 1983-88, 114-18 over the last four seasons, 64-6 and 8-0 over the last two.

Jack Ramsay's last two Saint Joseph's teams, from 1964 to 1966, went 8-0 in the City Series and 50-8 overall. Phil Martelli's St. Joe's teams went 53-9 and 8-0 from 2002 to 2004.

So, after review and given that national title last April, I think it is pretty clear that Jay Wright's teams are the midst of the greatest run in the history of Philadelphia college basketball. If, by some chance, these Wildcats can win a second consecutive national title this April, it will then become one of the greatest runs in college basketball history.

Yes, UCLA went 88-2 over the first three seasons of its seven consecutive national titles and won 10 in 12 years in the 1960s and 1970s. That standard will never be approached.

Yes, Duke, with that sustained run of Final Four appearances from 1986 to 1994, has set a very high bar for the modern era of the 64-team, and now 68-team, NCAA Tournament.

Yes, Kentucky came within an overtime loss in the 1997 championship game to Arizona of winning three straight titles.

Still, let's think about this. Villanova is a great historic name in college hoops, but there is no Division I football money there. The Wildcats' Catholic school brethren, once the real powers in college hoops, have largely disappeared from NCAA runs into April.

The last Catholic school to win the national championship before Villanova in 2016 was Villanova in 1985. The last Catholic school to make the Final Four before Villanova in 2016 was Villanova in 2009.

Villanova has beaten the football cash odds soundly. What has happened on the Main Line is a tribute to the head coach's vision he was able to sell to his administration and to his mastery of the modern game. It is absolutely a tribute to players whose skill is topped only by their will.

Beyond the winning, it is impossible not to enjoy watching these Wildcats play the game. They are in it for the right reasons and, yes, they play it the right way.

I love efficiency numbers, and the record is backed up by the numbers. In the first season of the run, Villanova was 21st nationally in offensive efficiency and 12th in defensive efficiency. The next season, it was fourth and 11th. Last season, it was second and fifth. After 11-0 this season, it is second and 13th.

I don't how, when or where this ends, but, regardless, the journey has been one to savor; the quality of basketball has been so good for so long, you really don't want it to end.

Read Dylan's Chase

If you are looking for a good Christmas book gift, try Dylan's Chase, a novel by Tom Faustman. Anybody who knows the history of Catholic League basketball, especially in the late 1960s, will especially like the book. It is a fun read, as the author takes you back to the Drexel Hill courts, the season when Monsignor "Conner" tries for the championship and you get engrossed in the lives on the three main characters, Dylan, Nut and Truck. The characters are composites, but, according to Temple coach Fran Dunphy, who grew up in that era, you might be able to recognize some real-life people in them.

Ball brothers can ball

How much fun is it to watch UCLA and its freshman Lonzo Ball? The Bruins, 15-17 last season, are 12-0, while shooting 55.4 percent overall and 43.9 percent from three. Ball sees everything and makes the game easy for his key teammates, all but one of whom was on that sub-.500 team. UCLA is putting up very uncollege-like scores - 119, 114 and 102 three times.

By the way, Ball has two younger brothers on the way to UCLA. LiAngelo, a senior at Chino Hills High, already has a 72-point game this season. LaMelo is a sophomore. Last season, with the three brothers on the team, Chino Hills went 35-0, while averaging 97.9 points.

This and that

* In addition to Villanova and UCLA, the remaining unbeaten teams are USC, Baylor, Gonzaga and Creighton.

Unlike UCLA, which won at Kentucky, USC has not played much of a nonconference schedule. Still, four seasons after orchestrating the memorable Florida Gulf Coast run in South Philly, Andy Enfield has made Trojans hoops relevant again. They were 21-13 last season, losing a first-round NCAA game to Providence that they probably should have won.

* Speaking of freshmen, how impressive was Kentucky's Malik Monk in the instant classic 103-100 win over North Carolina in Las Vegas on Saturday? His last three was the game-winner with 19 seconds left and the last of his 47 points - 18-for-28, 8-for-12 from three.

* B.J. Johnson has been a super- efficient offensive star for La Salle so far. Not sure what happened at Syracuse, but the Lower Merion grad is a shooter who can score in every way. He averages 19.9 points, while shooting 53.7 percent overall, 46 percent from three and 87 percent from the foul line.

* The top six teams in the Big 12 are 61-5.


jerardd@phillynews.com

@DickJerardi

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