Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Jerardi: O'Neil's book about Villanova a slam dunk

I LOVE WRITERS who take readers places they could never go themselves. In her new book, Long Shots, Dana O'Neil takes her readers into the final Villanova huddle of the 2016 Final Four and then takes them meticulously through the 15 years of the Jay Wright era that led to that moment that would lead to that long shot by Kris Jenkins.

I LOVE WRITERS who take readers places they could never go themselves. In her new book, Long Shots, Dana O'Neil takes her readers into the final Villanova huddle of the 2016 Final Four and then takes them meticulously through the 15 years of the Jay Wright era that led to that moment that would lead to that long shot by Kris Jenkins.

I will admit to being biased here. Dana, a DN alum and now a senior writer for, is not only one of my favorite writers, she is also one of my favorite people, one of the best friends anybody could have. But judge the book for yourself as Long Shots will be in bookstores Feb. 1 and also on Amazon and available at

Villanova was not literally a longshot to win the 2016 national championship. The Wildcats certainly had the ability to win it. Given the modern structure of college basketball, however, they really were longshots as Dana explains quite effectively in the final few chapters.

The entire book is framed around the final 4.7 seconds of the championship game against North Carolina. The chapters on Daniel Ochefu, Ryan Arcidiacono and Jenkins, the three key players in that final play, are detailed and illuminating, my three favorite in the book.

As I was reading the book last Wednesday, I texted Dana and told her the book kept getting better, which is a tribute to her skilled writing and the way the book was structured and organized. Even though the outcome was known, there was still some tension, which she managed to create by releasing the details slowly, surely and powerfully.

My seat in NRG Stadium that night was in the second row on the side of the court where Jenkins launched, straight across from him. I could see his form was spot-on, but my view was less than perfect to gauge the trajectory. Get certain views and you know some shots are destined.

I do know this. The team that deserved to win the 2016 national title won it. Villanova was the best team over those six games. I watched three on television, saw three live from courtside. I had a pretty good sense of what was happening as it was happening, but I hardly knew everything.

I learned a lot by reading Long Shots. You will, too. Villanova fans will love this book, but, if you love college basketball and good storytelling, you will, too.

The La Salle story

If they keep playing at the same level, the Explorers are likely to be favored in most of their remaining 14 regular-season games. has projected them to finish 8-6, which would compute to 18-11, 11-7 in Atlantic 10. The site predicts four one-point losses at Saint Joseph's, at George Mason, home with Rhode Island and at Massachusetts. So, those four games could easily go the other way.

The Explorers have an NCAA Tournament-worthy offense, a no tournament-worthy defense and a likely final resume that might be good enough to get them in the NIT. Unless they run the A-10 table or win the A-10 Tournament, I don't see them making the NCAA.

The nonconference resume just isn't there, unfortunately. If the January La Salle could replay the November games with Temple and Texas Southern, we might be having a different conversation. The Explorers played Villanova closer than anyone in the Big 5 during the Wildcats' incredible perfect four-year City Series run. They just don't have a signature win.

La Salle is halfway through its 30 games that are guaranteed and playing its best basketball. The Explorers have the kind of firepower that should keep them in every game. They are now 25th nationally in offensive efficiency and, if they end up in a bunch of close games, their 76.7 percent free throw shooting, 19th nationally, will come in quite handy.

The scoreboard might be tested Thursday night at Gola Arena with Davidson's scoring machine on the court against La Salle's. Each can really score and neither defense is going to win awards. The kenpom projection? La Salle 80, Davidson 76.

Great Vreeswyk tweets

Mike Vreeswyk (@MikeThreeswyk) posted several classic recruiting letters from 33 years ago, a Western Union congratulations from John Chaney when the then-Morrisville High senior signed with Temple in November 1984 and a postcard from Hawaii signed by Rollie Massimino when Villanova was still recruiting him.

Michigan's Steve Fisher was interested in a July 31, 1984, letter, but Vreeswyk wrote Monday, "As soon as Glen Rice committed, I was out."

A Vermont assistant coach wrote in May 1984: "We do not feel you will have the academic grades for the University of Vermont. Thus, we will no longer be recruiting you."

Alongside the Vermont turndown, Vreeswyk posted a letter from Pete Carril that said it was clear Mike was qualified for admission to Princeton.

Polar opposites

I would love to see an NCAA game between 18-1 UCLA and 14-3 South Carolina. The Bruins have the third-most efficient offense in the last 15 seasons, scoring 1.24 points per possession. Only Duke (2014) and Wisconsin (2015) have been better.

South Carolina is No. 1 in defensive efficiency this season, holding teams to .860 ppp. The Gamecocks, however, are average on offense, scoring 1.04 ppp just 160th nationally. The Bruins are not awful on defense, but they are not good, either, allowing teams to score 1.00 ppp, 100th nationally.

This and that

Notre Dame may be poised for another deep NCAA run after getting within a win of the Final Four each of the last two years. Entering a very tough road game Wednesday with Florida State, Mike Brey's team is the only one without an ACC loss. The Irish are 16-2 overall and had significant leads in the two losses against Villanova and Purdue. Steve Vasturia, the senior from St. Joseph's Prep, is having another outstanding season, averaging 15.0 points while shooting 48.7 percent overall, 44.3 percent from three and 91.5 percent from the foul line. In the last 2 seasons, ND is 72-20. . .

Love what Penn has done in each player's locker by putting the names of all the players who have worn his number in the past. . .

Speaking of Penn, the Quakers are the 1 in a legendary NCAA Tournament stat. North Carolina is 33-1 in NCAA games played in North Carolina. They still refer to March 11, 1979, as "Black Sunday" in Carolina after No. 9 seed Penn beat No. 1 UNC during the same Raleigh doubleheader that St John's beat Duke. That, of course, was the Penn team that went to the Final Four. . .

The Big 12 went 97-21 (.822) in nonconference, easily the best percentage in the country and the best in the 20-year history of the league. You could make a pretty strong case that Kansas, West Virginia and Baylor, with combined records of 49-4, are all serious Final Four threats.