Wright's not to blame for Villanova's early NCAA Tournament exit
Jay Wright's resume should squelch all the talk from naysayers about his coaching ability.
SINCE VILLANOVA'S upset defeat at the hands of North Carolina State in this year's NCAA Tournament, a growing number of people have said coach Jay Wright should go.
The main reasoning behind this talk is the sentiment that he is not a big-game coach, as demonstrated by his teams' NCAA Tournament losses.
Coaching is a hard profession, particularly in college sports. Alumni and supporters tend to have expectation levels that simply are unrealistic and also to have a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. This is best exemplified by what happened to Mack Brown, the former Texas football coach. His team won the 2005 national championship, stunning USC in the Rose Bowl, but resigned after the 2013 season after not coming close to repeating that feat again. Unbelievable!
Even more unbelievable is the case of John Brady, who took LSU to the Final Four in 2006. The next year, the Tigers dipped to 17-15, and by midseason of the following year, they were off to an 8-13 start and he got fired.
I decided to do some research to see whether there were any facts supporting the naysayers about Wright and his coaching career. First, let's look at the most prevalent one - that he can't win in the NCAA Tournament. Excuse me, wasn't it only six seasons ago, when the Wildcats, picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the Big East, went on a remarkable run and reached the Final Four? They defeated American and then three powerhouses - UCLA, Duke, and Pittsburgh. In the Final Four, they lost to the eventual national champion North Carolina Tar Heels - a pretty good run for an undersized team that entered the tournament with seven losses. Beating UCLA, Duke and Pitt back-to-back-to-back was quite a coaching achievement, and occurred only as a result of Wright's ability to get the 'Cats to play great team basketball.
In 2009-10, the 'Cats rolled to a 24-7 record heading into the tournament, but were knocked out in the second round by a red-hot underdog St. Mary's team that featured Matthew Dellavedova, who now plays for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The 2010-11 'Cats finished 21-12, running out of steam and losing their last six games, including to George Mason in the first round of March Madness. The 2011-12 Villanova team was the only one in this stretch that did not achieve a terrific record for the season. But theses 'Cats were very young, with no contributing senior and five freshmen on the roster. They finished 13-19.
In the wake of that disappointing season, Wright piloted the 'Cats to a rebound 20-14 record the next year. Villanova drew a tough first-round assignment and lost to North Carolina. Last year's Villanova team had a terrific 29-5 season, including 16-2 in the Big East, but were knocked out of the NCAAs by Connecticut, which went on to defeat everyone and win the national championship.
So in these last seven seasons, the 'Cats made the NCAA Tournament six times, lost to two eventual national champions and went to the Final Four once. I think it is pretty safe to say that almost every college not named Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas or Wisconsin would trade anything to have a record like that.
As for this year's disappointment, I believe the 'Cats were way overseeded, based on their 32-2 record. If you examine their season, though they stampeded through their conference with only two loses and won the Big East Tournament, they had only one win against an NCAA Tournament team outside the Big East, Virginia Commonwealth. The problem was that the Big East is a far weaker conference than in the past and Villanova's record, in my opinion, was misleading.
Consider that Louisville, UConn, Pitt, Syracuse, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Notre Dame are no longer in the Big East. Had those teams still been in the league or Villanova been in another power conference, I think it would have lost six or seven games this season and been a 5 or 6 seed. If that were the case, the Wildcats' NCAA Tournament performance would not have been nearly as disappointing.
As you can tell, I am an extraordinarily strong supporter of Jay Wright. I think he is a great person, a great coach and a sensational representative of the university. As a graduate of Villanova's Law School, I am always proud when I hear Wright address the media. His comments after the disappointing loss to NC State were full of class and grace. He acknowedged being disappointed, but said the loss should not define the Wildcats' season - and he is right! The 'Cats had a great season, but fell victim to one of this year's hot March Madness teams.
To achieve the No. 1 seed in the East and finish at 33-3 is pretty darn good. If it were up to me, Wright would be Villanova's coach for as long as he wants to be!
On Twitter: @GovEdRendell