Congratulations again to Villanova, the Final Four participant that will face the Oklahoma Sooners in a National Semifinal tomorrow night at 8:00 PM in Houston, Texas.
This is a mark of high-end legitimacy for the league, fighting to stay in the national radar without ESPN exposure. For the new Big East, the Final Four is the highest on-court postseason achievement for a team in three years of the new configuration of the league, dedicated to basketball as its pillar.
Villanova has made the NCAA Tournament in 11 out of the past 12 years, a beacon of consistency.
That level of consistency is a dream for the Johnnies, the Big East team in the league's most major market.
To be fair, Villanova hasn't fallen on the hard times that St. John's had. The Red Storm skidded for ten years between NCAA Tournament appearances, with some NCAA violations AND a minor scandal that had some integral players kicked out thrown in for good measure.
In the 24 seasons since Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca has stepped down in 1992 - before President Clinton took office - St. John's has had only 12 winning seasons and seven coaches (including the half-season of Kevin Clark when Mike Jarvis was fired mid-season of 2004).
In that same time - longtime Villanova coach Rollie Massamino left after 1992 as well - the Wildcats have had 20 winning seasons and two coaches (Steve Lappas preceded the well-dressed Jay Wright). The Main Line school has been ranked as high as #1 this year and reached a top-ten national ranking in ten of those seasons. St. John's has been a top-ten team twice, in 1999 and in 2000.
Getting to that level takes time, obviously. Villanova's problems are not St. John's problems.
The Red Storm have struggled with the program's identity in an era where the pipeline to the steady, high-end local talent has ruptured for various reasons. The program has been unable to either change course or repair that pipeline. And the results from the coaches have been often below expectations.
But let's take a moment and think: what can the Johnnies emulate from Villanova?
Culture and consistency
The consistency of Villanova, on the court, has been impressive. Their style has been three-to-four guard lineups that can still compete on the defensive glass, teams that draw fouls and take three-pointers, teams that force turnovers and make scoring difficult inside the arc.
Some of that success comes from getting excellent players and having a system that is consistent.
But part of that success is steeped in culture.
The Philly Inquirer has some good nuggets on the Wildcats' culture in their piece, "It's All About the Players for Jay Wright" - a title that obfuscates the fact that it's actually all about the culture that Jay Wright builds.
Finding the players who will accept the philosophy, and making that philosophy actually work on the court, is the hard part [of building a program].
"The two important things in coaching is that the kids have to believe what you tell them and what you tell them has to be right," said [Director of Player Development Whitey] Rigsby....
"What he has done, and how he's had this program set up, is he gets the right guys to come in and play hard and not worry about themselves," said freshman guard Jalen Brunson.
What Wright has been able to do is identify a prototype of a player he wants and recruit to fill his program with unselfish leaders who can put aside personal accolades and NBA dreams to work towards winning.
So when players like Rysheed Jordan and Isaiah Briscoe were available in recruiting, Villanova's recruiters kicked the proverbial tires, but chose to go in different directions.
It's not about the best players - it's about the right fits. And being able to get those players to buy in to a good plan.
Does this apply to St. John's yet?
It's hard to tell whether St. John's has a good plan yet. The roster on the floor last year caused most to predict a losing or .500 season, and that was with the assumption that freshman point guard Marcus LoVett would play.
It's hard to tell in year one whether St. John's has the right fits, or good players. Most of the squad includes players that were not as highly ranked as any Villanova player - which means that their ability to hang with the rest of the Big East would not be immediately evident.
(Players DO develop, and it's known that generally, freshman players are not ready to carry heavy loads on the court without experience around them.)
It's hard to tell if St. John's has a strong plan about which players they want. Though there is promise; notice how St. John's has been able to focus on certain players, even seeming to back off of Rawle Alkins late. And importantly, Chris Mullin did not change his requirements to try to keep Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa in the fold; both initially made decisions to stay but left a few weeks after Mullin was hired.
St. John's has been working for a long time to get within striking distance of the Final Four; the Johnnies haven't had legitimate Final Four hopes since 2000. The Chris Mullin experiment is in its infancy.
But the most important thing for the staff and the program will be establishing the consistent culture of people and style that Villanova has been able to achieve.
Your thoughts? (Be civil and constructive, no "everything is terrible" rants, please.)