Wild Ride

Villanova’s magical run enthralls a campus.

The e-mail arrived early Sunday from one of El Hombre’s Villanova University journalism students. Her parents had surprised her with a trip to Houston for tonight’s national championship game—and since the senior wouldn’t be returning to town until later Tuesday morning, she wouldn’t be able to present her sports-radio take in class.

Would that be all right?

All right? It’s perfect.

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There are some in the academic community who will, no doubt, decry Villanova’s infatuation with its basketball program, but those tweedy types had better zip ’em up and find a way to tolerate the hysteria, because this is more important than string theory, Balzac or Caesar’s Gallic Wars—combined. The Wildcats’ run to the national title game even trumps journalism, the most sacred of all academic pursuits.

My student should embrace every moment of her trip to Houston, even if the Wildcats somehow lose to North Carolina’s tall trees—so should every person on the school’s campus. This is an extraordinary opportunity, and those fortunate enough to be at the nexus of the action are remarkably fortunate. One can only imagine how difficult it will be today for professors to hold their students’ attention. It’s tough enough teaching theology on a regular, old Monday. Today, the wise move would be to quote liberally from the Books of Daniel (Ochefu) and Joshua (Hart), while busting out some key facts from Numbers (VU has shot 58.2 percent from the field during the tournament). Face it—nothing of consequence is getting accomplished today.

At a time when the rest of the Philadelphia sports scene is stark and unforgiving, save the Flyers’ pursuit of a playoff berth, Villanova’s success is a tremendous boost to the region’s fans. Even though there are plenty of people who can’t stand the Wildcats (thanks, Rollie), this type of excitement isn’t exactly commonplace around here. Just as Villanova’s 1985 national title is still remembered fondly and celebrated by many, this year’s trip to the final game will be a cherished memory.

But will it result in the ultimate satisfaction? Subduing North Carolina won’t be easy, as anyone who has watched the Tar Heels’ run through the tournament will attest. UNC is deep, versatile and big … really big. Ol’ Roy Williams calls on five players who are 6-8 or taller. Carolina wore down Syracuse Saturday night with its substantial interior force. By game’s end, the Heels looked like teenagers toying with their little brothers’ friends. If Villanova can’t prevent an interior onslaught, it could be overrun.

Since the Wildcats aren’t all that big—after Ochefu, no rotation member is taller than 6-8—it would appear as if negating UNC’s size will be impossible. But Villanova has been playing an effective zone throughout the tournament, and that will help. So will the team’s many high pick-and-roll deployments, which will force Carolina’s big men to defend on the perimeter and can open the lane for penetration.

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Finally, there is the long-range effect. Villanova’s outstanding three-point shooting will stretch the Tar Heel defense and create room inside. If the Wildcats are hitting their outside shots—as they have been at a blistering 49-percent success rate during the tournament—they will be tough to beat. Watching them move the ball during the last couple weeks has been reminiscent of the NBA’s Warriors and Spurs, who play unselfishly and create the optimal shooting situation on nearly every possession. Continue that kind of play Monday night, and Villanova will be the national champion.

If that happens, students like the one who emailed me Sunday won’t have to worry about missing a presentation Tuesday morning, because no one will be in class. They’ll all be at the parade.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: There still isn’t a lot of excitement surrounding the Phillies, and no one is expecting a run to the playoffs. But there are some reasons to watch the team this year, thanks to the young talent the Phils are accumulating. Don’t expect much in terms of a robust win total, though. If the team wins 75 games, everybody should be pretty happy.

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