— You gotta cheer for Villanova.
I know it’s not like getting behind George Mason or Davidson or a real glass-slipper team. But if you root for the underdog — and Americans always cheer for the underdog — it’s Villanova or nothing.
So tell your significant other. Tell Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa and all the kids. Run out and get that Wildcats jersey and the baseball cap and whatever else you need. You’re going to need them, if only to remind yourself who you’re rooting for.
It’s not much to wrap your underdog-loving spirit around. Villanova is the lowest-seeded team left in a tournament that was pretty much all chalk. Every 1, 2 and 3 seed reached the Sweet 16. As a No. 3 seed, at least 43 teams were ranked below the Wildcats coming into the tournament.
Villanova also lacks the anonymity that a true Cinderella boasts of. Thanks to its miraculous 1985 win over mighty Georgetown, everybody knows ‘Nova exists. Plus, no team that plays in the Big East can ever claim that it’s overlooked.
But compared to North Carolina, Michigan State and Connecticut, the Wildcats are relatively humble. They’re not the ugly stepsister; more like the sort-of-cute little sister to the head cheerleader-prom queen.
Just look at the title count among the finalists. The Tar Heels have won this show four times. The Spartans and Huskies have won twice each. That’s eight titles among the three teams compared to just one for Villanova.
That one title was an all-timer. If you’re a carbon-based life form with two working brain cells, you’ve heard about it. It was in 1985 when Villanova was a genuine Cinderella. The Wildcats were seeded eighth that year and fought their way into the Final Four along with fellow Big East teams St. John’s and Georgetown.
The Hoyas were unbeatable that year. All of us who covered the tournament assured our readers that the only thing more solid than Georgetown was General Motors, which kind of shows you how much things can change over the years.
But the Wildcats, under the direction of coach Rollie Massimino, played the perfect game in the last year the NCAA didn’t have a shot clock. They shot 88 percent in the second half and pulled up perhaps the greatest upset the tournament will ever see.
That was 24 years ago, though, which is long time for any team to rest on its laurels. The Wildcats haven’t been back to the Final Four since. So it’s about time, right?
Then there’s Villanova’s coach, Jay Wright, who has managed to survive 47 years on the planet without ever making it to the Final Four. He did make the Elite Eight in 2006, and has been the Big East’s coach of the year this year and in 2006. But he’s never been to the Final Four. Roy Williams, Tom Izzo and Jim Calhoun, the other coaches, have all been in the Final Four and they’ve all won it.
So there’s another reason to root for Villanova — win one for the coach.
Finally, there are the players. The other survivors all have all-Americans on their rosters — Carolina has nine McDonald's All-Americans! UConn and UNC both have player-of-the-year candidates in Hasheem Thabeet and Tyler Hansbrough. Michigan State has the Big Ten player of the year in Kalin Lucas.
Villanova has, um, let me think, they have … just a second. I have to check who they have, because I can’t remember anyone on their team.
OK, I know they have good guards, and there was a guy named Reynolds who had the shot of the tournament after a daring drive to beat Pitt and punch the Wildcats’ ticket to Detroit. He’s a heckuva player, is Scottie Reynolds. The off guard, Reggie Redding is perhaps their best defender.
The other starters are Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Dante Cunningham. Remember those names. Anderson and Clark effectively negated Pitt's DeJuan Blair on the boards, and Cunningham leads the team in scoring.
Between 'em, they administered an old-fashioned back-alley whupping to the mighty Dukies. Another of their victims was UCLA, a blue-blooded member of college basketball’s royalty.
But Villanova doesn’t exactly stockpile blue chippers. The team has had only two first-team All-Americans — Randy Foye in 2006 and Kerry Kittles in 1996, in the past 27 years. And the one they had before that, Howard Porter, signed with an agent before the 1971 tournament, which forced the team to forfeit a trip to the Final Four.
So even though the Wildcats are in the nation’s top conference and have a magic moment for the ages in their history book, they’re a notch below the UConns, Pitts, Syracuses and Georgetowns of the world. They’re a notch below Michigan State, too, and at least two notches below North Carolina.
That makes them the underdog and the team we have to root for, even if they did bust our brackets.
Repeat after me: Go Wildcats.