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Final Four provokes debate: what does blue blood status deserve?

NEW ORLEANS – North Carolina has won six national championships and reached more Final Fours than any college basketball program. Duke has claimed five titles with retiring coach Mike Krzyzewski and Kansas has just beaten Kentucky with the most wins in game history on its way to the Final Four.

No one disputes the blue blood status of any of these programs.

The controversy, or just the conversation, really picks up when the discussion turns to Villanova, who joined the Tar Heels, Blue Devils and Jayhawks this weekend in New Orleans. They reached their seventh Final Four and are chasing their fourth national title, which would place them at the height of UConn and one behind Duke and Indiana.

“I’m sorry to be here with them. Damn it. We have a lot of respect for them,” acknowledged coach Jay Wright, who led the Wildcats to the last two titles in 2016 and 2018 after Rollie Massimino delivered the first in 1985.

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“But we never aspired to be one of those programs,” Wright continued. “In fact, we fight against the desire to try to be like them, because we are so different. We try to be the best Vilanova we can be. But when outsiders connect us with them or tell us as part of their legacy or tradition, we love it. , because we have a lot of respect for them ”.

If what Villanova has achieved over the last four decades is not enough to achieve blue blood status, then what is needed?

A quick poll of a dozen people in Friday’s Final Four, including players and coaches from each of the national semifinalists, definitions varied.

Former players and coaches, fans, venues and success were an important part of every definition. But the three elements that appeared most often were history, culture, and coherence.

“I feel like blue blood is the best of the best,” said Joseph Yesufu of the Jayhawks. “It’s a tradition.”

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The Tar Heels easily tick all the boxes: Michael Jordan and Tyler Hansbrough were among their many stars on the track, and Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Roy Williams took them to six-decade titles. They are just behind the Jayhawks and Kentucky in the list of victories for their national semifinal against the Duke on Saturday night, and if mystique is a requirement, head to the Dean Smith Center and watch freshman coach Hubert Davis chasing the glass.

Or watch them play on the road at Duke, which also marks all the boxes. Coach K turned a program that began in 1905 into a giant, involving everyone from Christian Laettner and Shane Battier to JJ Redick and Bobby Hurley, and there are few atmospheres that can rival Cameron Indoor Stadium on a cold winter’s day.

One is Allen Fieldhouse, where Kansas plays on a floor named after the game’s inventor; it’s not much more historic than that. And while the Jayhawks struggled to hang the championship banners, losing more title games than anyone else, that didn’t damage the perception that their show belonged to the elite.

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“Our program is definitely one of the top programs in the country,” said Kansas coach Bill Self, “and no one can discuss that at all. But to be considered equal to anyone else, we have to cut the nets. Monday night, and we have to do more of that. “

Like Kentucky, with its eight titles spread across four coaches over seven decades. Or UCLA, which holds the record with 11 titles between John Wooden and Jim Harrick. Almost every basketball fan agrees that they are the blue blood of basketball.

Now it refers to rivals Indiana or Big Ten, Michigan State and Ohio State, and let the debate begin.

“A blue blood program is a program of consistency over a period of time,” said Villanova escort Eric Dixon, “a program that has a success story and is doing well in the present.”

But how present? The Hoosiers are 5-1 in the national title games, winning two championships with Branch McCracken and three with Bob Knight, but the last one was in 1987 and they did not reach the Final Four in two decades.

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The Spartans are perennial competitors, reaching the national semifinals 10 times, but their only championships were Jud Heathcote in 1979 and Tom Izzo in 2000, six Final Fours since they have failed to produce another.

“I would just say consistency is the most important thing,” said Kansas-based Christian Braun. “That’s what you see when you look at all those programs. I’d also say the leader matters. All of these schools have great leaders.”

Not much better than Phog Allen, Larry Brown and Self in Kansas, or Adolph Rupp, Joe B. Hall, Rick Pitino, Tubby Smith, and John Calipari in Kentucky. Wood is the gold standard at UCLA and Coach K belongs to the same realm, while McGuire, Smith and Williams have kept the Tar Heels relevant for most of the last seven decades.

If winning at the moment matters, it’s getting harder and harder to keep Wright out of the conversation in Villanova.

“Blue Blood is a really successful program that was built from scratch,” said Jermaine Samuels of the Wildcats. “We are very grounded in our habits and our values ​​every day. I don’t know how we would fit into the blue blood talk and all that, I would just say we play for those who preceded us.”

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One thing seems clear, there is no single definition of what makes a program one of the bluebloods.

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Final Four provokes debate: what does blue blood status deserve?

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