Early exits from the NCAA tournament have cast a shadow over the powerhouse Jay Wright has built at Villanova. Though the program won the 2016 national championship, skepticism lingered because the Wildcats failed to survive 2017's opening weekend.
But with Sunday's 71-59 victory over Texas Tech, Villanova provided what should be the final piece of evidence to remove the negative perception that lingered after its three early exits in the past five tourneys.
The most successful program of the past half-decade—and one of the best in the last 10 years—is headed to the Final Four for the second time in three years.
This, however, isn't a "prisoner of the moment" situation, in which the difference between a win and a loss would've determined if Villanova was a GOAT or still a goat. If someone believes the Wildcats choke in March, it's unlikely Sunday did much to sway their opinion.
No, the problem is that narrative has persisted.
When men's college basketball fans think of Villanova's postseason history, two moments stand out. There's Kris Jenkins' buzzer-beating triple to knock off North Carolina and secure the 2016 championship.
And then there's Crying Piccolo Girl.
That meme-able moment happened in 2015, when top-seeded Nova lost to North Carolina State in one of its three recent losses during the round of 32. With a No. 2 seed in 2014 and a No. 1 in 2017, Villanova bowed out to Connecticut and Wisconsin, respectively.
One image captured several years of disappointment. It also only tells a small portion of the Wildcats' story.
We, as a sports culture, tend to overvalue postseason victories and disregard regular-season success because of a simple reason: entertainment.
The regular season doesn't pack as many thrills into such a short period. March Madness, on the other hand, is special. It's a highly enjoyable, upset-filled two-and-a-half-week tournament. A colossal amount of work hours and sick days are spent by fans who plant themselves in front of multiple devices to watch this 68-team event.
While it's not perfect, it sure is exciting.
But a single-elimination tournament does not provide an accurate representation of which programs have the premier teams in a given year. The sample size is too small. That's inarguable.
Yes, the Big Dance can endorse a coach or program. No reasonable person will argue championships are irrelevant, and there's no greater line on a resume than a title. Still, this is the same competition we say is "really hard to win" every year—yet we also expect greatness from the top programs on a yearly basis.
Over the last 14 seasons, Villanova has provided greatness. It's missed the NCAA tournament just once and reached the Final Four three times. That 21.4 percent rate of reaching the third weekend is matched or exceeded by only the game's biggest names.
And in recent years, no program has been more successful.
Since the 2013-14 season, Villanova boasts the most victories (163) and highest winning percentage (88.6) in Division I.
During that time, the only other programs to reach multiple Final Fours are North Carolina, Kentucky and Wisconsin. And since 2008-09, just Connecticut, Kentucky, Michigan State, North Carolina and Villanova have a trio of Final Four berths (Kentucky has four).
It's really hard to win in March, yet Wright's teams do that regularly anyway.
Before Sunday, Villanova had already accomplished enough to merit respect. That it earned a trip to San Antonio should only cement that feeling—not be the reason for a change in perception.