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Gonzaga can aspire to Villanova’s success

The Zags took the first step, now it is time for the second.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Villanova Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

You can argue almost any point in life, but you cannot argue against the Villanova Wildcat’s recent run of success. In the past five years, Villanova has been at lowest a No. 2 seed, and they have two national championships to show for it all.

In an era of one and dones and super collegiate players, it isn’t too often that those schools are the ones that cut down the nets often in April. Duke won it all with the freshman trio of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones, and Justise Winslow in 2015. Kentucky won it all with Michael Kidd-Gilcrest, Anthony Davis. and Marquis Teague in 2012.

The past few years, the winners have been the complete teams built the “old fashioned” way. Villanova has enjoyed more success in this regard than almost any other school out there.

Villanova is getting good recruits, but the Wildcats rarely have a recruiting class that turns heads. Yet, the success is rather unprecedented at the moment. Gonzaga is following in those footsteps, albeit, not as successfully.

ESPN has a fantastic piece on the Jay Wright’s philosophy and how he got Villanova here, the winner of two national titles in three years. One quote sticks around rather prominently, and it is a theory that has floated around Gonzaga as well.

“It wasn’t, ‘I don’t want guys that want to be pros.’ It was, ‘I want dudes that want to be pros, but I want guys that want to play for Villanova and be part of this program,’” Lange said of Wright’s recruiting strategy. “‘I’m going to message everything I do the same way. If they don’t want to come, that’s fine.’ He also made the conscious decision, however long it takes to get that thing back going, I’m going to do it with those principles in mind.”

If you’ve read Bud Wither’s excellent book on Gonzaga basketball Glory Hounds, this idea sounds familiar. The Zags are constantly recruiting the player that best fits the school, not the best player available. After the Zags seemingly missed out on every 2018 recruit out there, they landed a strong center in Filip Petrusev, and 2019 recruits Anton Watson and Brock Ravet are looking better every day, if a bit quietly.

The Zags have the lauded Olynyk Clinic, dubbed for transforming Kelly Olynyk from a high school sophomore into a college basketball junior star. The Zags have been, and will be going forward, a destination for grad school transfers looking for their one last shot at the NCAA Tournament.

Last year, they were perhaps a Zach Collins fourth foul from cutting down the nets. This year, the Zags made the Sweet 16 for the fourth consecutive year. While the Bulldogs own the blueprint for how to be the little brother kicking the butts of the older siblings, Villanova has a model and program to look up to and aspire to replicate. The Zags, for the most part, have been following that model.

The Zags have the pieces in place to do some damage sooner than later. Presuming the squad is back for another go around next season, the Zags should open as a top 10 team and a potential Final Four pick. As this year demonstrated, making it all in the NCAA Tournament is as much hard work, skill, preparation, and quality basketball (hello Villanova champs) as it is the wrong day to have a bad night, fate, missed shots, crazy shots, etc (hello every other team that lost in the NCAA Tournament).