While things looked grim towards the end of the regular season, especially after Ohio State was bounced in their first game in the Big Ten Tournament, the Buckeyes managed to come away victorious in their first round matchup in the NCAA Tournament against Loyola-Chicago. They now meet up with No. 2 Villanova, winners of the Big Ten conference tournament and a program with a history of success during March Madness.
Like we did before last game, let’s take a look at five fun facts about the Villanova Wildcats ahead of Sunday afternoon’s matchup.
1) The Wright man for the job
Jay Wright is one of the best college basketball coaches in the country, and has been for quite some time. After serving as an assistant coach at four different stops, including Villanova from 1987-92, Wright got his head coaching start at Hofstra in 1994. Under Wright, the Pride saw steady improvement. From 1999-2001, Hofstra went 72-22, won their conference twice, and made two appearances in the NCAA Tournament. For his efforts in Hempstead, NY, Wright was named America East Coach of the Year after the 1999-2000 season, and shortly thereafter became the head coach at Villanova in 2001.
From there the rest is history. Wright has amassed a 516-197 record during his 21-year tenure with the program. Since the 2004-05 season, Villanova has made the NCAA Tournament in all but one season, and has won either the Big East regular season or conference tournament (or both) in each of the last nine campaigns. With Wright at the helm, the Wildcats have won a pair of National Championships (2016, 2018) and made three Final Fours. Wright is a six-time Big East Coach of the Year recipient, two-time Naismith Coach of the Year winner, and was named the AP Coach of the Decade for the 2010s.
Needless to say, he’s pretty good at this whole coaching thing.
2) Job security
Speaking of coaches, Villanova hasn’t had many of them. In the entire 102-year existence of the program, the Wildcats have only had eight different head coaches. While Jay Wright has been there for 21 seasons dating back to 2001, he isn’t the longest-tenured headman in the school’s history.
That honor goes to Alex Severance, who led ‘Nova for 25 years from 1936-61, amassing a 413-201 record during that long span of time. As a team captain himself on the Villanova basketball team as a senior during the 1928-29 season, he returned to lead the team from the sideline and helped get the Wildcats to the program’s first-ever Final Four in 1939. He led Villanova to 20 or more wins in a season seven times, but despite his success and his four appearances in the NCAA Tournament, he never won a national title.
In fact, the only other Villanova head coach to win the NCAA Tournament other than Wright (who’s done it twice) was Rollie Massimino. Massimino led the Wildcats from 1973-92, going 355-241 in that time and winning it all in 1985. Massimino won five conference titles and made the tourney 11 times, shy of only Wright’s eight conference titles and 16 NCAA Tournament appearances.
3) He’s still there!?
Somehow, some way, Collin Gillespie is still playing at Villanova — and leading the team in scoring, at that. Now a fifth-year senior, Gillespie has been a staple on the Wildcats roster for what feels like forever. He is not to be confused with Conor Gillespie (no relation), who hit a heartbreaking game-winning three-run home run against my Mets in the 2016 NL Wild Card Game. But, I digress...
Gillespie — the one at Villanova — led the Wildcats this season with 15.9 points per game to go along with a team-high 13.4 points per game. The 6-foot-3 guard brings with him a ton of veteran experience, especially in the postseason, as he was part of ‘Nova’s national title run in 2018. During his collegiate career, Gillespie has played in 152 games and started 121 of them, which is probably the reason it feels like he has been there since I was born. Regardless, he has only gotten better with age, with his shooting percentage and his three-point percentage steadily increasing over each of the past three years.
Gillespie scored his career-high this season with a 33-point outing against Providence back in February. In that game, he drilled five three-pointers and knocked down all eight of his attempts at the charity stripe. Those are two areas Ohio State will have to keep him away from on Sunday, as Gillespie shot over 42% from beyond the arc this season and hit almost 90% of his free throws.
4) A tough schedule
The Big East is a really solid basketball conference, but Villanova played a real gauntlet even outside of conference play. The results were mixed.
After a cakewalk in their season opener against Mount St. Mary, the Wildcats traveled to then-No. 2 UCLA, where they were defeated 86-77 on the road. They went back on the road two games later, defeating then-No. 17 Tennessee before falling in their next outing to then-No. 6 Purdue. A few weeks later, ‘Nova was back on the road against then-No. 2 Baylor, where they were beaten thoroughly in an ugly 57-36 final. The rest of the way they picked up losses against Creighton, Marquette twice and UConn, while picking up notable wins against Xavier twice, Seton Hall, Providence twice, and winning rematches against both Creighton and UConn.
Overall, the Wildcats weren’t the offensive juggernaut we’ve become accustomed to. While they finished at No. 6 in the AP Poll, Villanova ranked No. 128 in the country in points per game (72.9) and 196th in field goal percentage (.439). On the flip side they were solid defensive, ranking 25th in opponent points per game (63.0) and eighth in steals per game (4.8).
5) Famous alumni
As we did for our five things about Loyola-Chicago, we simply now have to look at some of the famous alumni to attend Villanova.
I’m not sure they can match the Ramblers for anyone as cool as Stanley from The Office, but there are certainly big names on the board here for the Wildcats as well. They might have taken the crown with Bradley Cooper, but he attended for only one year before transferring to Georgetown, so that doesn’t count. They also sort of get to lay claim to Toby Keith, as the country music attended for a year and received an honorary degree from the university. In terms of actual graduates, they produced Jamie Hyneman (co-host of Mythbusters), Chris Gheysens (the president and CEO of Wawa), Andrew M. Allen (a NASA astronaut and space shuttle pilot) and Jill Biden (First Lady of the U.S.).
However, their most famous alumni is likely one who came from the basketball court — Paul Arizin. An NBA Hall of Famer, Arizin was a 10-time All-Star and two-time NBA scoring champion. In 2021, Arizin was named to the NBA’s 75th Anniversary Team as one of the league’s greatest players of all-time. His No. 11 is currently tired by Villanova.
Ohio State and Villanova are set to tip off at 2:40 p.m. ET on CBS. Unlike the Buckeyes’ first game, where the Vegas Odds were more-or-less a toss-up, the second round game is more slanted in favor of the opposition. According to the DraftKings Sportsbook, Villanova is currently a five-point favorite for Sunday’s tilt. The over/under for the game is set at 132.
If Ohio State can overcome the odds and advance to the Sweet 16, they would face rival Michigan, who knocked off No. 3 Tennessee on Saturday night.