College basketball blue blood tiers: Where do UCLA, Villanova land?

A new season of FOX Primetime Hoops arrives this weekend, with marquee college basketball matchups slated for every Saturday night through the eve of Selection Sunday.

This week features a doubleheader as Villanova hosts UCLA in a battle of two prominent programs at 7 p.m. ET in Philadelphia, followed by the 120th meeting between No. 8 Marquette and Notre Dame at 9 p.m. ET in Milwaukee.

The matchup between the Bruins and Wildcats sparked a thought this week. It’s a unique time for both programs, and it’s obviously far-fetched to think anybody could do what Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton and Gail Goodrich helped accomplish at UCLA under the Wizard of Westwood, John Wooden, winning 10 national championships in 12 years from 1964-75. 

That being said, after three disappointing seasons in a four-year span to end the Steve Alford tenure, UCLA went to former Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, and he’s been really strong since taking over the Bruins, putting them back on the national map. Top NBA rookie Jaime Jaquez and point guard Tyger Campbell had much to do with the return of the Bruins, but the 52-year-old Cronin has established a winning culture rooted in toughness with UCLA reaching the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament in three consecutive seasons, including a trip to the Final Four in 2021. 

So, the times are good at UCLA. But are the Bruins a top blue blood? We’ll get to that in a few moments. 

The bigger story is what’s happening at Villanova. Look, could we have expected Kyle Neptune to keep the dynasty run of excellence going to the same degree that Jay Wright had with the Wildcats? I don’t think anybody will ever truly duplicate what Wright built at a small Catholic school just outside of Philadelphia. Wright had a 263-53 record over his final nine seasons that featured two national championships, three Final Fours and four Sweet 16 appearances from 2016-22.  

But at this very moment, the whole feeling around the program has quickly taken a 180. Neptune, 38, got a pass last year for not having a point guard and having Justin Moore out for the majority of the season with an Achilles injury suffered in the 2022 Elite Eight against Houston. Villanova missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2012. What occurred in the offseason was a drastic course of major NIL investment to the tune of around $3 million combined with the Wildcats taking as many transfers in one offseason (four) as they did in the previous decade combined.

What has proceeded to occur in this 2023-24 season is nothing short of bizarre. After a loss to Penn, which signaled it could be more of the same in year two of Neptune, Villanova notched four consecutive KenPom top-60 wins over Maryland, Texas Tech, North Carolina and Memphis, the final of which gave the Cats the Battle 4 Atlantis title. 

Lance Ware posts up in the paint and…

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Read More: College basketball blue blood tiers: Where do UCLA, Villanova land? 2023-12-07 18:47:58

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