REINER: Villanova finally garners national respect for itself, BIG EAST


Photo by Maggie Bean

Photo courtesy of Maggie Bean/Marquette Athletics

Each of the teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament’s Final Four have a narrative. There’s 10-seed Syracuse, a perennial power labeled this year’s “Cinderella,” 1-seed North Carolina, which was a popular choice to win it all, and Oklahoma, led by superstar guard Buddy Hield.

Then there’s Villanova – the team without a marquee name on its roster – from the “new” BIG EAST conference. After years of criticism, it took dominating every team through the Sweet 16 and upending overall No. 1 seed Kansas for the Wildcats to finally earn the respect they deserve.

Villanova has been berated by critics since 2009, the last time it made it out of the tournament’s opening weekend. Those critics are quick to overlook the fact that the Wildcats have made the tournament 11 of the past 12 years, missing out only in 2012. Those 11 trips include two Final Fours, an Elite 8 and two Sweet 16s.

So while pundits quibble over the belief that the Wildcats weren’t elite before this year, it’s important to remember how they got to this year’s Final Four. They’ve averaged an incredible 82.3 points per game while holding all four tournament opponents below 70 points. Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono is shooting out of his mind: 63 percent from the field and 58 percent on three-pointers. The rest of the Wildcats are sharing the load, scoring in bunches and forcing more turnovers than they commit. After all, that’s the BIG EAST way, isn’t it?

I recently read a remark that “teams win games, not conferences.” Yet Villanova wouldn’t be where it is had it not faced the merciless, tumultuous BIG EAST schedule. A five-point win at then-No. 18 Butler, a one-point win over Seton Hall and an overtime home defeat to then-No. 16 Providence all glare on the Wildcats’ conference results this season. Would they have beaten Kansas without those games in their subconscious?

In turn, each Villanova victory garners approximately $1.59 million for the BIG EAST, to be paid over the next five years to each of the 10 programs. That means programs like Marquette, Georgetown and DePaul, who didn’t even make the postseason, are reaping more than $600,000 from Villanova this year. That’s a nice “thank you” for getting them ready to face fellow 2-seed Oklahoma this weekend.

It’s no longer a matter of whether or not Villanova is an elite program; it’s if it’ll be able to capture its first NCAA title since 1985. As a founding member of the original BIG EAST and the leader of its current form, it’s time to appreciate everything they’ve done. For now, let’s cheer on the Wildcats to bring home the conference’s first NCAA title since UConn in 2011.