Defending a Final Four win is exceptionally hard to do. Florida did it under Billy Donovan in 2006 and 2007. They were the first since Duke, in 1991 and 1992, to repeat as champions. They were, in turn, the first to win two in a row since the Bruins finished their incredible seven-year run under John Wooden - which started only a year after they had won two straight.
So, the facts are clear - the odds are stacked heavily against Villanova in their pursuit of a second straight title. Yet here they sit as we enter the middle of December with the Wildcats at 11-0 and ranked No. 1 in both polls. That doesn't mean anything, but it's a good first step.
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So, is this a legitimate contender to repeat? Or are they going to suffer the same fate that so many before have? Here are five factors to consider when pondering the fate of this team:
Consistency over the years: It took Jay Wright quite awhile to find his stride, but he certainly has things dialed in now. In the last three years the Wildcats have averaged 32 wins, gone 16-2 to win the Big East all three years, and made it to the third round of the tournament for two years before the national title. And now he sits at No. 1 again this year. An impressive run. He's had success before this - most notably the 2009 run to the Final Four - but this is a whole new level, and it has lasted long enough that it is no fluke. It's also lasted long enough that it's not just about one player or group of players carrying the weight. This is a truly elite program intending to stay that way.
Experience: Villanova has seven guys who have played all 11 games so far this year. Six of them, including the five leading scorers this year, are upper classmen - three seniors and three sophomores. That means that all of those guys went through the title run last year and all were core contributors last year. Those guys haven't lost in 17 games - the longest streak in the country. They lost a couple of players from last year's team, but they kept the most important pieces. Experience like this can't help but lead to toughness, and we are seeing that in how they are playing and how focused they have looked so far this year. They have very rarely faced adversity this year - they are rolling over most foes - and when things have been tight, like when they played Purdue, they have looked calm and confident. What makes this team so dangerous this year is that they absolutely know what they are capable of. Everyone else just has to hope they are good enough.
Josh Hart: Hart is the kind of player that makes me love college basketball so much. He is far from a prototypical NBA player. If he gets drafted this year at all after he graduates it will be in the second round. Through hard work, though, he has improved dramatically in each of his four years, and now he is not only the guy who leads the way on this very good team but also the guy leading the race for the Wooden Award as the country's best player. He's averaging more than 20 points a game, and he is playing his best basketball against the best teams he has played against. He had 37 points and 11 rebounds - both season highs - against Notre Dame, was strong against Purdue, and dominated Wake Forest and Temple. He has evolved into a big game player, and he's a big asset to this team - as a player and a leader.
Schedule: The team has made it through the heart of the nonconference schedule and will all but certainly make it to Big East play at 13-0. And then things get interesting. They scheduled well this year - tough enough to gain credibility and get sharpened up but not so tough that they are burned out. They need to be sharp and fresh in conference play because they face three teams currently in the Top 20 - Creighton, Butler and Xavier - and they face all three twice each. It's not just that, either. Providence, Seton Hall and Marquette are all decent teams, and Georgetown has all sorts of issues but should be much better than they have been so far. It's obviously a schedule they can manage - they have done so the last three years - but it will be a test. To further challenge them they also have a heck of a nonconference game coming up - they host Virginia on Jan. 29. The Wildcats again have a schedule that can lead them to a very impressive record, but they will have to be on their game or there are plenty of chances to trip up.
Betting performance: The team is 7-4 ATS on the season. That is only okay for an unbeaten and often dominant team, but it's not surprising given the public attention to a National Champion. They have obviously been favored in every game they have played. What stands out is that they have struggled, as you might expect, with bigger spreads. They have faced spreads of 16 or more six times in 11 games. They are just 2-4 ATS in those games. That means that they are a perfect 5-0 ATS in games with lower spreads. They have gone "under" the total six times and "over" five, so they haven't produced any meaningful profits for totals bettors to date. The team was 14-14-1 against the total in the regular season last year, so this lack of total profitability is nothing new.
Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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