The frightening thing about Villanova isn't that the Wildcats can make 18 three-pointers on the biggest stage and leave proud ol' Kansas to replace disappointment with awe after a Final Four blowout. That's plenty terrifying, but here's what should really make blood curl: That shooting trick, nearly impossible to replicate, is merely a superfluous exhibition that gets the attention of the casual observer.
They don't need to stay this hot, or even close to it, to beat Michigan and win the national title Monday night. They just need to pull out something from the most diverse and enviable repertoire in men's college basketball. They can win with shooting. They can win with defense, rebounding and toughness. They can win by turning to the nation's best player, point guard Jalen Brunson; or by allowing their humble future NBA lottery pick, Mikal Bridges, to shine; or by distributing the ball to all six of the players that they believe can score 25 points on any given night.
It took until the final weeks of the season, but the dominant team the sport lacked this season has emerged. The Wolverines must play their best and receive some luck to prevent Villanova from capturing its second championship in three years. The Wildcats' greatest competition might be the swelling expectations; they opened as a 6.5-point favorite over Michigan, which makes them the largest NCAA title game heavyweight since Duke was favored by seven over Butler in 2010.
Right now, Coach Jay Wright has the team with the healthiest culture in a sport full of programs with identity issues, and the Wildcats are also the most enjoyable team to watch. They are far from invincible, and they have four losses this season to prove it. But they're playing their best basketball and shrugging while everyone else showers them with admiration.
"That's as good a team as we've played against that I can remember," Kansas Coach Bill Self said after his team's 95-79 loss on Saturday night.
Said Kansas center Udoka Azubuike: "It was unreal. I had never seen that before. It lowered our confidence a little bit, and they were just shooting and making everything, it seemed."
It wasn't just that Villanova tied the previous Final Four record of 13 three-pointers — before halftime. The Wildcats' defense forced Kansas to play at an uncomfortably fast pace. On both ends, they dictated everything that happened.
Unlike previous Villanova squads, it can play with five shooters on the floor and still have good size, with a starting frontcourt that goes 6-7, 6-9 and 6-9. It used to be that the Wildcats would have to play four smallish guards and a center. Now, they're a matchup nightmare without having to employ cat-and-mouse strategies. You won't find another perimeter-oriented squad that can match Villanova's physical style, either. It's a system, a discipline and a mentality that Wright has perfected since turning to it exclusively about 12 years ago.
More than most, the Wildcats know who they are. This stage illuminates their trust in each other and faith in their system.
"It's our best offensive team," Wright said. "We've had some good ones. This is definitely our best. Our challenge has been that we were so good offensively earlier in the year that we got lazy defensively. So it was hard to get to this point where we are."
Before it dominated Kansas in the semifinal, Villanova experienced a tournament run that required varying styles of play. It shot just 33.3 percent and made 4 of 24 three-pointers against Texas Tech in the Elite Eight, but still won a gritty defensive affair, 71-59. It labored for a while against West Virginia's pressure defense, but made 13 three-pointers in a Sweet 16 victory. There is no easy-to-decipher template to beat the Wildcats, not now that they have a Omari Spellman owning the boards and making long jumpers from the center position.
It helps to pray that they have an off shooting night, but they live for those moments.
"If we weren't making shots, I feel like we would have grinded that game out, maybe win by one or two possessions," said Brunson, who had 18 points and six assists against Kansas.
Villanova seems more fascinated with realizing its potential than simply winning another national title.
"I think this is definitely a product, but not the finished product," Brunson said. "We use the line every day: Let's see where we can be by the end of the year, be the best team we can be by the end of the year. That's all we've worked for is to be the best team we can be."
It just might turn out that being the best team in the nation is different from being the best team they can be. A championship trophy is the goal, but Villanova doesn't want to settle. It wants to win and max out. Making 18 of 40 three-pointers was exhilarating. Still, Villanova wants more. Leading Kansas 22-4 was stunning, and led to this "wow" quote from Self about Villanova's might: "I thought if we could get it to single figures at halftime maybe we could have a chance. And we didn't. We've been down to good teams on the road by at least 15 or more. But we haven't been down to Villanova by 15."
Still, Villanova wants more.
Villanova has grown from being a great offensive team that coasts at times to a locked-in, multifaceted machine intent on winning it all again. There's a chance that Michigan could play a great game Monday night and still lose.
"This is a special group," junior guard Phil Booth said. "We want to make the most of it. We have 40 minutes to give all we got. We don't want to save anything. We don't have time for that."
Villanova exhausted all of its resources in beating Kansas. It was an extended look at how good the Wildcats can be, but they are certain they have more to give. It's an amazing concept to consider. Petrifying, too.