To celebrate SLAM’s 30th anniversary, we’re spotlighting the 30 most influential men’s college teams from our past 30 years. Stats, records and chips aren’t the main factor here, it’s all about their contribution to the game’s cultural fabric.

For the next 30 days—Monday through Friday— we’ll be unveiling the full list here. We’ve also got an exclusive retro collegiate collection, out now, that pays homage to each squad’s threads. Shop here.

The Villanova Wildcats entered the 2017-18 season as that team. They’d just won the National Championship the season prior in historic fashion when then-senior forward Kris Jenkins hit a buzzer-beater shot against UNC that left the entire college basketball world shook. It was, and still is, one of the greatest moments in the history of college hoops. It set the precedence for what would come next. 

So, how exactly did Jay Wright’s squad run it back? One of the brilliant minds in the game knew exactly how to coach a hungry, fundamentally-sound squad that included Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth. Brunson is the type of player that, since childhood, has credited his success to his work ethic, and while at ‘Nova, he’d put together a list of goals, individual and team-oriented, that he wanted to accomplish and tape it in his dorm room. That included:

Graduating in the summer of 2018. 

Making the All-American, Big East and Big Five Academic teams. 

2018 First-Team All American, All-Big East, All-Big Five.

Conference regular season and tournament champions. 

Winning an NCAA National Championship.

While there’s many, many factors to a team’s success, Brunson’s mental approach to the game, instilled in him by his father, Rick, and then backed by Wright, set the precedent for what he and his squad would achieve. Manifestation is real, and so were the Wildcats: with Brunson’s court vision, Bridges’ defensive prowess, and DiVincenzo’s scoring outbursts, ‘Nova waltzed through the regular season, finishing 14–4 in Big East play.

“I was a version of myself, I guess I technically didn’t know I had,” Brunson told SLAM in 2022 while reflecting on the 2018 season. “I always knew I was good, playing the post, but we really used it as a weapon.” 

All the while, the No. 1 seed in the East region dominated their way to the NCAA tourney, including wins against Radford, Alabama, West Virginia, and Texas Tech. After defeating Kansas in the Final Four, the Wildcats were composed against Michigan in the Championship: they knocked down clutch shots from deep, connected on dimes from Brunson, and took control of the tempo. The final score: 79-62. 

National Champions, check. 

Photos via Getty Images.


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