Sports

Villanova looks to become the NCAA Tourney’s first repeat champ in a decade

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Will Villanova recapture Florida’s 2007 magic?
Photo: Frank Franklin II / AP

Dynasties have long ruled the land in college basketball. From Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky teams in the late 1940s to Mike Krzyzewski’s Duke teams in the early 1990s, the NCAA Tournament annals are littered with examples of the same powers prevailing year after year. Only recently have the empires stopped sustaining annual success.

In the past 25 years, just one team has won the tournament in back-to-back seasons: Florida in 2006 and ’07. Could this be the year when college basketball returns to its traditional oligarchic state?

For the first time since Florida in 2007, the defending national champ enters the 68-team NCAA Tournament field with the No. 1 overall seed. Villanova was even better during the regular season this year than it was on the road to last year’s championship trophy. Led by national player of the year candidate Josh Hart and 2016 buzzer-beating hero Kris Jenkins, the Wildcats broke a record shared by the 1990-1991 UNLV team by winning 31 games the year after taking the title.

Villanova is the top choice to win it all at a number of sports books, including Station Casinos. The main reason it’s not unanimous? The No. 2 seed in the Wildcats’ own East Region, Duke. The Blue Devils are out to win their second championship in three years, a feat no program has pulled off since Kentucky in 1996 and ’98. Duke does have two recent NCAA Tournament trophies, in 2010 and 2015, but those teams were drastically different from one another. The 2010 Blue Devils’ roster was filled with upperclassmen before Krzyzewski embraced the one-and-done nature of modern college basketball with the 2015 team.

This year, Duke is an amalgam of the two philosophies. The Blue Devils’ current rotation includes three players who contributed to the 2015 championship—Grayson Allen, Matt Jones and Amile Jefferson—and three freshmen who were a part of a decorated recruiting class: Jayson Tatum, Frank Jackson and Harry Giles.

Duke earned favorite status at books like the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook and Wynn by knocking off archrival North Carolina for the second time in three tries last week in the ACC Tournament. Despite losing two of their last four games, the Tar Heels remain the most likely champion by the future odds at William Hill books.

North Carolina came within four seconds of taking Villanova to overtime in last year’s final game before Jenkins’ three-point heave splashed through the net. If the NCAA Tournament plays to form of the betting odds, a rematch awaits.

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