PART ONE – VILLANOVA HAD A GREAT RUN – ANOTHER BIG FIVE WINNER FOR THE BOOKS
There is no denying Villanova had a great run in this year’s NCAA tournament, making it to the Final Four before losing to North Carolina last night. It was a hard loss to swallow, especially after watching the Spartans of Michigan State make such a statement game of upsetting UConn in the opening of the Final Four doubleheader, but Villanova shot very poorly from the three point line, and could not establish its inside game against UNC. Moreover, Villanova’s normally excellent defense failed them against UNC’s superb inside-outside attack of attacking at the low post but also kicking out to the three point line, and here, UNC shooting 50% or better from the three point arc sealed Villanova’s fate—if Villanova sagged to defense the low post, UNC simply killed them from the three point arc. When Villanova came out to play perimeter defense, UNC exploited the seams to get easy buckets inside. One final point is that UNC seemed to be taller overall than Villanova, and this seemed to make some difference on the defensive side of the ball; Villanova was not getting out in transition, and in the half-court offense, was having trouble shooting over, or matching up with, the taller UNC players.
Having said that, Villanova was by far the best Big East team in the tournament this year. They beat UCLA handily, they crushed a very good Duke team (with an RPI of one), they got past a Pitt team that had been ranked #1 at times this season, and got to the Final Four.
This year’s Villanova team was a team of seniors and juniors, experienced players who had played together a long time. I had them bracketed to get to the finals of the NCAA, not just the Final Four, because I felt that having three seniors who had played together as long as Villanova’s seniors had played together, was an incredible advantage in today’s college basketball.
In today’s college game, your best player usually leaves after one season to seek out pro contracts and a sneaker endorsement. It’s hard to find athletes who will commit to four years on campus.
But we all know why they stay at Villanova. Howie Long tells the story every week on that NFL pre-game show. It’s the nuns, the professors, the small campus atmosphere. Villanova feels like home. It’s the kind of place you don’t want to leave. For many of the kids who come to play basketball there, they will learn much more than basketball at Villanova, they will learn life skills and many other things.
Having said that, it should be pointed out that Villanova is now spending as much money on its basketball program, according to the Philly Daily News and other sources, as any other major Division I basketball program, around $5 million annually, which compares to $6 million annually spent by UConn or by UNC. And yet $5 million annually isn’t even close to the top in the Big East.
However, because Villanova does not have a Division I football program that earns a lot of money, Villanova’s sports programs run an annual deficit of around $16 million which have to be picked up by NCAA revenues, boosters, and the like. It’s hard to believe that Villanova has continued to stay committed at this level, given their size and endowment.
At the same time, we can now more easily see why Temple, St. Joes’s, LaSalle and Penn are not competing at the same level as they used to ten or twenty years ago vis-à-vis NCAA competition—it now takes $5 million annually to really ramp up a program to final four viability.
That St. Joe’s made the Final Four a few years back with Jameer Nelson and Delonte West for a fraction of that budget is a testament to the recruiting and coaching skills of Phil Martelli.
That Temple got to the elite eight so many times with John Chaney and almost to the Final Four for a fraction of that budget is likewise a testament to the recruiting and coaching skills of Chaney, a hall of fame coach.
A school that has a big time football program—like Penn State or Michigan State—should be able to afford to spend on their basketball program—and Michigan State has been successful in basketball, as has Penn State to a lesser degree (they’re doing well in the NIT this year after being a bubble team that didn’t get an at-large bid with the NCAA). Those schools don’t have to deficit spend on basketball, they can take plus side monies from football and invest them in basketball.
I think this explains why, for so many years, President Liacouras of Temple, who was instrumental in getting the Liacouras Center built in North Philadelphia where Temple Basketball now plays its home games, was so interested in putting together a Division I Temple Football program which would be a money maker. He wanted a football program that would make enough money that basketball would be able to share revenues from football, rather than having the university deficit spend on basketball.
Given today’s economics of big time NCAA basketball, this was a far-sighted view of the situation. Temple today remains in Division I football, though they’ve dropped down a conference, and can still be a profitable football team. That dream is still alive for them. Al Golden is doing a good job as football coach.
To summarize, Villanova had a magnificent run in the NCAA this year, capping off a four year run by these seniors that was nothing less than magical. Kudoes and cheers to Villanova and to coach Jay Wright. For a long time I was a Steve Lappas guy, and I always thought he got a bum deal from Villanova, and I was very slow to come around to Jay Wright, I will admit I have a bias there. At first I thought Wright was glib and not too bright, and that he couldn’t coach in tough games. He’s proven me completely wrong. He’s both a good recruiter and an excellent coach.
Art Kyriazis Philly/South Jersey
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