As the clock hit triple-zeroes and Kris Jenkins's shot split the net, Wake Forest fans rejoiced for obvious reasons:
1. UNC lost
2. UNC LOST!
3. IN HEARTBREAKING FASHION!
4. (We all burst out laughing at Crying Jordan memes this morning)
However, the UNC loss does more than drum up our inner sense of schadenfreude. The Villanova win brought out euphoric sensations and bouts of jealousy. After the initial shock and thrill, my Wake friends and I all shared a sad, but optimistic reality: If they can do it, why not us?
Sure, this sounds like Homerism 101. The Wildcats have a great coach in Jay Wright and is one of two major conference programs to win 86 percent of their games over a three year span. On the other hand, Wake has a young, uncertain foundation with no reassurances that Danny Manning is the man for the job.
But seriously... from a long-term perspective, Villanova and Wake Forest are like-minded institutions on and off the court. This win reaffirms that in the right incubator, small private schools can follow their footprint and topple the Blue Blood oligarchy.
1. Like-Minded Institutions
Villanova and Wake Forest are two of the smallest major conference basketball programs with 6,400 undergrads and 4,800 undergrads respectively. Since 1985, Villanova, Syracuse and Duke are the only private institutions to win a national title. Syracuse and Duke are hardly bereft of resources. Villanova, like the Deacs, doesn't have the massive fanbase and alumni population to provide donations or support. Through savvy recruiting and coaching, the Wildcats got over the hump.
2. Academic Standards
People frequently blame Wake's academic standards for why we cannot recruit top players. Factually, this is not true. Private schools with strong basketball programs like Vanderbilt, Notre Dame, USC and Georgetown are among the Top 30 in US News and World Report. Likewise, Villanova is a competitive academic institution that draws similar talent. Unlike our friends at Chapel Hill, they don't offer "paper courses." Academic rigors may deter some, but it attracts many. The best coaches, like Wright, Mike Brey and Skip Prosser, use these strong academic programs as a advantage, not a disadvantage.
Several recent NCAA champions like Duke and Kentucky have relied on super freshmen and one-and-dones to hoist the trophy. On the other hand, the Wildcats started just one freshman in Jalen Brunson and their top four scorers are juniors or seniors. Unlike the Blue Bloods, Villanova has built their team through developing the "right fits" of a course of years.
As much as we'd like to sign Harry Giles, Wake cannot compete with Duke and UNC for elite prospects. Our best chance is to follow Villanova's (and Miami and Virginia) path to bring in high-3 star and low-4 star players that thrive in the system. Nobody would argue that the Wildcats were not the most talented team on the floor on Monday night. Nor did they have the most NBA prospects. They won because they minimized mistakes, shot lights-out and executed down the stretch.
These similarities between Villanova and Wake left me envious on Monday. After regaining my composure the next morning, I felt long-term optimism. Why? Villanova just wrote the book for how a small, academic-driven school can conquer the NCAA establishment by storm. Now the Demon Deacons need to read it.