Originally Published: June 10, 2014

Top 50 coaches: No. 19 Jay Wright

By ESPN.com

Jay WrightRich Barnes/USA TODAY SportsJay Wright has taken the Villanova Wildcats to the NCAA tournament in nine of the past 10 seasons.

Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 19: Villanova's Jay Wright. On Wednesday, we release No. 18.


On Monday, Thad Matta's spot at No. 20 came with another reminder of the guidelines voters were provided in this ranking system, and the importance of recent results in the ESPN Forecast panel's voting. In short, it was impossible to look at Matta's spot and not think he would have been much higher -- maybe even top 10 -- if not for Ohio State's subpar-for-him 2013-14 season.

Jay Wright is a similar case, but in the exact opposite way. For Wright, 2013-14 was all about redemption.

Last December, in the midst of Villanova's impressive 11-0 start, Wright sat down with ESPN's Dana O'Neil for what she called "a fascinating and introspective conversation, offering a rarely seen glimpse of the complications of success and the lessons of failure." Wright had seen both: After landing the Wildcats job as a hungry up-and-comer at Hofstra, Wright launched to textbook success at Villanova. By the fourth year of his rebuild, the Wildcats were in the Sweet Sixteen. A year later, they won a share of a loaded Big East and got to the Elite Eight. From there, Wright's work was steady: The Wildcats won in their league, they recruited good classes, they always went to the tournament. Rinse, repeat.

But then things got weird. The talented class Wright lured in 2009 -- Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, Mouphtaou Yarou, Maurice Sutton, Isaiah Armwood -- were freshmen on the Scottie Reynolds-led No. 2 seed team in 2009-10. The future seemed bright. But in the next three years, that group of players (and the upperclassmen already on the team) would never come together. In 2010-11, Villanova went 21-12 and lost its last six games. In 2011-12, an apparently gifted group somehow found a way to lose 19 games. (Allowing nearly a point per trip for the season didn't help.) Wayns left for the NBA that spring and promptly went undrafted (though he has managed to stay on rosters for most of his career thus far). In 2012-13, a very different type of team -- one built on the backs of workmanlike tweeners JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard and James Bell -- played top-25 efficiency defense and eeked its way into the NCAA tournament, where it lost to North Carolina in its first game.

Jay Wright
AP Photo/Chris SzagolaWright played at Bucknell and immediately began his coaching career after graduating.

That was the start of the turnaround. The 2013-14 season was the breakthrough. After that 11-0 start, Villanova would lose just three games in the remainder of the regular season. One came at the hands of Syracuse in late December. The other two losses were to Creighton, and if you remember them, it's because Doug McDermott & Co. played 80 minutes of the most insane offensive basketball any of us have ever seen. But just as important to recall is that Villanova didn't lose a game to anyone else all season -- until the postseason (a Big East tournament loss to Seton Hall before an NCAA tourney loss to eventual national champ UConn).

Despite the ending, 2013-14 was a stunning reversal from the disengaged, dispirited group of the two seasons prior, and it reestablished both Wright and his program. That conversation with Dana was fascinating, because Wright could put his finger on what went wrong:

"You get it going. You're so excited and so into it and you think it's never going to get old," Wright said. "And then you keep it going for a while and it does get old. All of the media, the alumni, the attention, you start thinking, 'Oh man, we have to do this again?' You get tired and lazy, but you never think it's going to go away, so you don't worry. And then it goes away."

It may have been for the best. Wright's team in 2014-15 will feature almost everyone (save Bell) from last season's success, plus two prototypical Wright prospects (versatile small forward Mikal Bridges and 6-foot-2 point guard Phil Booth). Circa 2010, Wright might have tried to make an even bigger recruiting splash, to stockpile elite talent in place of reliable veterans. Instead, he is merely filling gaps. It's the sign of a more comfortable coach, one whose recent nosedive informs his wiser, more centered approach. Two years ago, Villanova looked lost. Now its coach is exactly where he belongs.

-- Eamonn Brennan


Previous: Nos. 50-25 No. 24: McKillop No. 23: McDermott No. 22: Amaker
No. 21: Brown No. 20: Matta

Full Top 50 Coaches List

No. 50: Tie -- Randy Bennett, Saint Mary's; Scott Drew, Baylor


No. 49: Richard Pitino, Minnesota


No. 48: Stew Morrill, Utah State


No. 47: Bob Hoffman, Mercer


No. 46: John Thompson III, Georgetown


No. 45: Mike Brey, Notre Dame


No. 44: Rick Barnes, Texas


No. 43: Chris Mack, Xavier


No. 42: Josh Pastner, Memphis


No. 41: Ed Cooley, Providence


No. 40: Bruce Weber, Kansas State


No. 39: Tubby Smith, Texas Tech


No. 38: Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech


No. 37: Rick Byrd, Belmont


No. 36: Steve Alford, UCLA


No. 35: Phil Martelli, Saint Joseph's


No. 34: Tad Boyle, Colorado


No. 33: Fran McCaffery, Iowa


No. 32: Tim Miles, Nebraska


No. 31: Lon Kruger, Oklahoma


No. 30: Bob Huggins, West Virginia


No. 29: Jim Crews, Saint Louis


No. 28: Jim Larranaga, Miami


No. 27: Mick Cronin, Cincinnati


No. 26: Archie Miller, Dayton


No. 25: Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh


No. 24: Bob McKillop, Davidson


No. 23: Greg McDermott, Creighton


No. 22: Tommy Amaker, Harvard


No. 21: Larry Brown, SMU


No. 20: Thad Matta, Ohio State


No. 19: Jay Wright, Villanova


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