Men's Basketball

Villanova seeks title to strike blow for schools outside Power 5

Phil Booth and Villanova have soared above the competition at the NCAA Tournament and hope to prove a non-Power 5 school can win the national championship.
Phil Booth and Villanova have soared above the competition at the NCAA Tournament and hope to prove a non-Power 5 school can win the national championship. TNS

Unlike their opponents from North Carolina, a blueblood basketball program in a Power 5 conference with a legacy of five national championships, the players and coaches from Villanova view a skimpier trophy case in their practice facility on a daily basis.

The Wildcats won their lone national title in upstart fashion in 1985 and compete in the restructured Big East, which no longer features any of the nation’s top football programs or benefits from the revenues they generate.

That is why Villanova coach Jay Wright considers Monday’s matchup for the NCAA men’s basketball championship in NRG Stadium (8:19 p.m., TNT) a potential “defining moment” for his program.

“I hope so,” Wright said during Sunday’s news conference. “This is a time in college athletics where all the conferences are trying to see where they fit. The Big East isn’t the same … We’re finding our place.”

Villanova forward Kris Jenkins has lived with the family of North Carolina guard Nate Britt since 2007, when the Britts became his legal guardians. The two teams meet Monday for the national championship. Video by Jimmy Burch

A national title in a revenue-producing sport would do wonders for the entire league. It also would rekindle memories of Villanova’s 1985 team, coached by Rollie Massimino, that won the national championship as a No. 8 seed. Montages of that team dominate the school’s practice facility and several members of that squad traveled to Houston to support the Wildcats.

“Throughout the year, they’re texting us, wishing us luck, giving us advice, stuff like that,” forward Daniel Ochefu said. “It’s a big part of what we’re doing because we play for those guys that played before us here. It’s great to be able to represent those guys in the way we’re doing it this year.”

Tar Heels guard Nate Britt discusses his relationship with Villanova forward Kris Jenkins, who has lived with the Britt family since 2007. The teams meet in Monday's title game. Video by Jimmy Burch

Hall call awaits

Members of the 2016 induction class for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced Monday, with two of the area’s notable retired high school coaches among the finalists.

Up for enshrinement are former Dunbar coach Robert Hughes, who ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches (1,333), and former Granbury coach Leta Andrews, who spent 51 seasons coaching teams at five schools and has the most career victories of any high school coach, male or female (1,416).

The 2016 class will be announced as part of Final Four activities in Houston.

Probe’s shadow

Many of the questions during North Carolina news conferences at the Final Four have involved an ongoing NCAA investigation into allegations that school officials, over an 18-year period, steered roughly 1,500 student-athletes toward no-show classes that required only a single research paper for completion with a passing grade.

Coach Roy Williams acknowledged the school “had a problem” that has created embarrassment for school officials. But he has tried to redirect questions and keep the focus on basketball while his team has been in Houston.

Asked if he felt he had a right to dictate the questions asked of him, Williams said: “I don’t have a great answer. I guess I’m just being a human being. For 2 1/2 years, I’ve been asked about the investigation. I’ve answered it the same way every time. In today’s times, why do I have to repeat the same thing? … We know men’s basketball had nothing to do with it and we’re very proud about that.”

But most academic advisers cited in a school report about the issue released in 2014 worked with both basketball and football players. That has raised questions about whether North Carolina might be stripped of this year’s title, if it were to win it, when sanctions related to the athletic program are announced at a later date.

During a Thursday news conference, NCAA President Mark Emmert said the investigation has reached a point “where my staff can issue allegations or notice of allegations in the very near future.” Emmert declined comment on the specifics of the investigation beyond calling it “a very complex circumstance.”

Rare company

A North Carolina victory would give Williams his third national title at the school, adding to triumphs in 2005 and 2009.

It would put him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, who won titles in 1982 and 1993 and would allow him to join a list of coaches with three or more titles that includes John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski, Adolph Rupp, Bobby Knight and Jim Calhoun. What would that mean?

“I’ve never had that thought,” Williams said. “I really haven’t. I’m still the guy that says truthfully I wanted to be like my high school coach.”

Jimmy Burch: 817-390-7760, @Jimmy_Burch

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