By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
PHILADELPHIA –In years past winning the Big East regular-season title guaranteed a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
But in this bizarre new world of conference-switching to accommodate football, the newly, reconfigured Big East is not going to get the kind of juice it once got in the NCAA Tournament. Some RPI services have the new Big East rated as the fourth-rated conference in the nation.
Nevertheless, Big East regular-season champion Villanova head coach Jay Wright has been more enamored with how well his team is playing at the most critical stretch of the season.
Since a home loss to conference-rival Creighton on Jan. 20th, the Wildcats have won 12 of their last 13 games coming into Thursday’s Big East quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The one loss in that stretch came at the hands of Creighton.
“They’re very mature,” Wright said. “These guys bring it every day in practice. I think that’s what’s been unique about them is that they are able to keep an intensity, regardless of the circumstances.”
As well as Villanova (28-3, 15-2) has played throughout the regular season, more than a few college basketball observers are saying that things have to fall the right way for the Wildcats to get the No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.
That said, Wright said he is not overly concerned about where his team is seeded in this year’s NCAA Tournament. It’s more about getting his team ready for the festivities in New York this week.
“I really don’t think there’s that much difference in playing between a one and a two,” Wright said. “Being considered up there is great, but no concern at all. We want to get fresh here going into the Big East Tournament. The Big East Tournament is fun, man. I just want to concentrate on the Big East.”
That message is something that’s been filtered down to the Villanova players as they go about the process of getting ready for their trip to New York.
“Coach makes sure that it doesn’t gets to our heads,” said Wildcats junior guard Darrun Hilliard, who scored 19 points in Saturday’s win over Georgetown. “We don’t really buy into it really. All the coaches keep us humble and keep pushing us to get better.
“We’re going to hear it on all the social networks, TV. It is what it is. Today’s today and so tomorrow’s a new day. We have to keep moving forward and getting better.”
The one thing to like about this particular Villanova squad is that they are team that truly plays together and they have no one player standing out as a superstar. In their 77-59 victory over Georgetown in the regular-season finale, the Wildcats had five players scoring in double figures.
“They have several players on their team that would be the point player or the star on other teams. They got different people who can step up and control the ball. Their unselfishness is the key,” said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. “At the offensive end, they are very unselfish team. They drive and kick it to the person that’s open and that person can make a shot.”
Four of the five players in Villanova’s starting lineup are averaging in double-figures. The Wildcat are led by six-foot-six senior guard/small forward James Bell, who averages 15 points and six rebounds per game. Junior forward JayVaugh Pinkston averages 14.4 per game while Hilliard scores 14.2 points per contest. Sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono contributes with 10 points per game.
Even with his team playing well, Wright said his team can get better and is starting to play well on defense. The two losses to Creighton in which the Wildcats allowed 96 and 100 points respectively made them realize that they play well on defense.
“Our defense is definitely getting better and they’re taking more pride in it. The second Creight taught them that we’re a good offensive, but you’re not going to be beat the best team just scoring,” Wright said. “After we got beat the second time that woke them up. I think we can keep getting better and that’s the approach we’re going to take.”