Here’s a news flash: Know why there hasn’t been a repeat national champion in 10 years, and only two in the past 44 seasons? Because it’s hard. Very, very hard.
The magic is fragile and fickle and can vanish quicker than it came. From "One Shining Moment" to heads down in a silent locker room. Just...like...that.
On Saturday, Kris Jenkins — last April’s sweet-shooting hero who calmly buried the 3-pointer at the buzzer that made Villanova a national champion — took nine attempts. He missed seven, including both from the 3-point line. For the two games this weekend, he was 4-of-22, and 0-of-8 from beyond the arc.
Where did the good times go? Jenkins is a senior. That magazine cover dagger into the heart of North Carolina last April will forever be the last NCAA tournament 3-pointer he makes in his life.On Saturday, Josh Hart, the leader of the pack who has done so many things for Villanova in so many places, twice had the ball — and the Wildcats’ survival — in his hands in the final minute. He traveled once and had the ball stripped away once. The game giveth and the game taketh away, even from its best.
On Saturday, the team that seemed to have tamed the stormy waters of March a year ago, struck a rock called Wisconsin — two weeks and 2,200 miles from the Final Four in Arizona. This time, it was the other team that made the plays.
“That’s what close games come down to,” Jay Wright said after Villanova fell 65-62. “We’ve been on the other end a lot.”And so the Wildcats will not go on the exclusive short list of Florida from 2006-07, and Duke 1991-92, and UCLA’s dynasty, and all the other repeaters. They join the roll call of champions who looked perfectly ready to do it all over again — until fate decided otherwise. Many of their demises are a perfect example of why it is so hard, and so rare.
There is Georgetown of 1985, beaten in the championship game by a team that missed one shot the second half...Villanova.
UNLV of 1991, the Rebels seemingly unbeatable, until Duke beat them in the Final Four.
North Carolina of 1994, ranked No. 1 and all ready to repeat, until the Tar Heels ran into a trap called Boston College in the second round. A day Dean Smith had no answers.
Arkansas of 1995, the Razorbacks returning to the national championship game, where UCLA was waiting. Scotty Thurman and Corliss Williamson, the two main faces for Arkansas’ 1994 champions, were back to do it again. Together, they shot 5-of-25 against UCLA. Kris Jenkins might understand.
Kentucky of 1997, beaten by Arizona in overtime in the national championship game, done in by 30 Miles Simon points and a 34-9 gap at the free-throw line.
But Arizona switched places one year later, its repeat run as a No. 1 seed crushed against Utah by 25 points in the Elite Eight.
There was Michigan State of 2001, ousted by Arizona in the Final Four. Duke in 2002, upset by Indiana 74-73 in the Sweet 16. Duke again in 2011, the trail ending with a 16-point loss to Arizona in the Sweet 16.The title defenses come and go, and there are almost always long faces at the end. March is too treacherous, glory too slippery, the opponents too plentiful, and too good.
Sometimes, there is one bad day, a bad half, five bad minutes. And that’s all it takes. We have seen it happen again. We nearly always do, which makes the Florida Gators of last decade — and others before them — all the more extraordinary.
It was left in the end for Wright to put it into proper perspective, as he has done so many times for Villanova, be it while explaining defeats that came too early, or cutting down championship nets.
“There should be nothing negative about this tournament. This is the greatest, I think, sporting event in the country,” he said. “I say this every year, we can’t take it for granted. It’s so special to be a part of it, Every time you win, and you get a chance to advance, cherish it. You’re going to come down to games like this, you know?
“To me there’s no dishonor in losing in this tournament, but I do know that — and we’ve lived through it — you are judged by how you play in this tournament, and that’s the reality of it. So you have to accept it.”
And he knows something else. Winning a national championship is one of the most difficult things to do in college basketball. Just below winning it again.