Villanova had just won another struggle with Seton Hall, the usual kind of thing between the two, this time at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon. One fan couldn’t contain himself. Walking past Villanova’s bench, he screamed out, “James Harden!”
Yes, the city is excited about hoops right now. The floor was being converted over for another Sixers game Saturday night. The afternoon rocked the place too. Villanova by a coin flip, officially 73-67, in front of 17,803.
This is just a theory, but a plausible one …
Maybe Villanova fans should thank Ben Simmons for Jay Wright still being on the Main Line.
» READ MORE: Villanova survives against Seton Hall
Point being, Sixers dysfunction over recent years overrode any consideration Wright might have had to coach the local pro squad.
I’m not one to believe Wright was always destined to stay at Villanova for life. When you share a U.S. Olympic team bench with Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, you might aspire to prove you’re at their level in every possible way.
Instead, Wright has stayed on the Main Line, and if you were inside the Wells Fargo Center for the first game of the doubleheader, you saw exactly why. Even if talent trumps culture, talent plus culture wins titles, and Villanova’s culture once again was on display.
Tie game, 67-all. What did it come down to at the end?
“They made two huge plays on the offensive glass,” said Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard. “I thought we did a good job scrambling, getting them to take tough shots at the end. But give them credit, they made two huge offensive rebounds.”
Brandon Slater, getting to the ball. Then Collin Gillespie, off a Slater tip. It was that kind of game for Villanova. Big drives all game by Jermaine Samuels. Big plays by Eric Dixon early in the second half that kind of flipped the script after Seton Hall shot its way to a little halftime lead. Big deflections by Justin Moore, in addition to his big free throws, his two blocks, his seven rebounds. He’s nowhere close to fully healthy, still not practicing after an ankle injury. Chris Arcidiacono takes one shot, after a scramble and a pass out. One shot in his 3 minutes ... swish. As big as any shot in the game.
Let’s not go rah, rah, college ball is better than pro ball. If you’d rather watch the college guys, you’re missing out on the highest level of basketball in the world.
Still, watching Villanova is often watching something a little special. The Wildcats may not have the overall talent to win a third NCAA title since 2016, but they’re heading to Providence Tuesday night for a huge Big East game, their culture required to be on display again.
“I guess Jay and I have been in this league a long time,” Willard said after Saturday’s game. “I kind of know what Jay’s going to do. Jay knows what I’m going to do. … I know Jay’s plays better than Jay does. We go into the game, we know what we’re going to have to do. They know what we’re going to do. That’s what makes this league unique.”
“What a game, man,” Wright said at the next press conference. “What a great college basketball game – Big East game. I’d like to think I’d say the same thing if I was on the losing side of it. I hope Kevin feels that way. Just give them a ton of credit … I think they can beat anybody in the country.”
Wright talked about how his team has not been able to get into an offensive rhythm this year, for whatever reasons, mentioning injuries, not having everyone practicing. “I don’t know what it is,” Villanova’s coach said. “We go for spurts. We hit threes. We go for spurts where we’re going inside. We don’t have that balance yet.”
This week, the culture is personified by Moore and Gillespie. Let’s assume Wright is more than happy coaching those two. Are we saying they are mentally tougher than Ben Simmons? Yes, we are. (I’m not a Simmons hater. Always believed he was an All-Star who could be a hall of famer if he just took elbow jumpers. But his failure to do that is his alone.)
Meanwhile, while Wright talked about how there is a lot of work for Villanova to do, Gillespie joined him for a post-game press conference. Wright was asked about Gillespie “diving for a loose ball on back-to-back possessions, doing that with a bum ankle ...”
“I don’t know … He was in my office yesterday. I just said, ‘You’re amazing dude, I’m going to be telling stories about you forever,’ ” Wright said. “I know he’s not close to 100%. But making those plays – that’s what we take pride in. That’s what all the great ones before him have done. He continues that tradition. Just proud to have him and blessed to have him on our team.”
That’s the deal right there, the report from the opening game of a pretty raucous little South Broad Street hoops doubleheader.