SOUTH BEND, Ind. - You've got questions. Jay Wright wishes his Villanova basketball team had answers.
Try to remember that the Wildcats were sixth in the preseason poll, and started 16-1.
At the moment, that seems like a distant memory. Because right now things aren't good.
Or, really, remotely close.
The 19th-ranked Wildcats lost last night by 93-72 to No. 9 Notre Dame, a team moving in the opposite direction. It was the 'Cats' third consecutive setback, and fifth in their last seven games. The two wins were against two of the only five Big East teams that won't make it into the NCAA Tournament, Seton Hall and DePaul. And even those were by three and two (in overtime) points.
So what else do you need to compute?
They will close out the regular season Saturday at No. 4 Pittsburgh. Then they'll head up to New York for the Big East Tournament, where they might have to play next Tuesday. The latest projections by ESPN's Mr. Bracketology had them being a No. 6 seed in the Madness. That might be shooting high, the way this ride is proceeding.
So much for more prime-time national exposure.
This time, the Wildcats (21-9, 9-8) trailed by 20 at the half. And they had to score the final five points to get that close. The Fighting Irish (24-5, 13-4), who completed an unbeaten season in Purcell Pavilion, were 11-for-19 from the arc. That's what they do. You think Villanova would have figured that out. The Irish had six treys in the first 9 minutes, and nine by the time the Wildcats got their first. By that point Notre Dame also had four conventional buckets, all of them lay-ins.
At times, it felt almost as if the Irish were playing H-O-R-S-E.
It was that kind of mismatch. Very frustrating. But it's been that kind of last month. The Wildcats appear to have lost their confidence. And their way. Whether they can turn it around in the next few weeks, who knows for sure?
Did we mention the Wildcats haven't been ahead in a little more than 115 minutes? At least they reached 70 points in regulation for the first time in six games, although they only had 39 with 10 minutes left. Moments before, Notre Dame had taken its biggest lead at 32.
Two years ago, Villanova came out here at almost the exact same time and got a big win. That team went to the Final Four. This group is just trying to somehow find the wherewithal to stop the bleeding. Calling Dr. Phil.
After Saturday's loss to St. John's, the third straight at home (the first time that's happened in 17 seasons), Wright said he still felt his guys were "close."
This was their worst loss since a 22-pointer to Saint Joseph's 3 years ago. That team still made it to the Sweet 16.
Wright understands there are more games to play. Hopefully, that's the good news.
"It's another bump in our road," he said. "We've had a few here. But I'm not looking at it as being as disastrous as it did look, in the long term. I think we played a really good team. They shot the lights out. Then we had to open up the floor [to try to come back], and that's the last thing you want to do against them.
"We're not playing with great confidence, after what we've been through. We have to keep our guys together. If we were just playing a [Top] 25 team, instead of a 7 or a 10 or a 4, but obviously we're not playing well. We can't hide that.
"The most fragile part of it is their psyche. That's our challenge right now. We knew when we saw the schedule that even if we were playing well, this could be a tough stretch. When we looked at the St. John's film, we tried to show them things they did . . . where we're not that bad. We've got to build our pride back up again."
The most points these Wildcats had allowed this season was 83, a month ago at Providence. For the fifth time in seven games, they allowed an opposing player to score at least 25. Actually, Notre Dame had two guys finish with 30. Seniors Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis went out in style. Hansbrough missed his career high by two, Abromaitis by one. Hansbrough tied his career best with 10 assists. They went a combined 18-for-29 from the field, 16-for-23 from the arc. Ouch. Hansbrough also made 7-for-7 at the foul line. The Irish set a program record with 20 treys on 32 tries. Many were uncontested.
DePaul made a season-best 13 treys against the Wildcats. St. John's tied a season high with 10, all in the first 21 1/2 minutes. The Irish shot better from three than two.
"There's nothing we could really do about it," said Corey Fisher, one of three senior starters. "We tried to put pressure on them, speed the game up. They like to run the clock down. They just hit big shots. They skipped it so fast - it was like zip, zip, zip - they got open shots and knocked them down."
Fisher led the Wildcats with 22, but 15 of them came in the final 7 minutes. After missing 21 consecutive treys, he finally hit three in that span.
"I'm going to keep shooting," he said. "I'm the go-to guy, but we need to play better as a team for us to win. Losing three in a row is not a good feeling. With younger guys, we've got to keep them up. It's something they've never been through. You can have some tough stretches in the Big East. There's nothing we can do about it except keep trying to get better.
"This game is over with. We've just got to keep working hard in practice, and stick to our game plan. If we all jell together, we can do something positive about it. We've got to speed the process up."
Because the opportunities are quickly running out.
It wasn't supposed to unfold like this. Now, they have no choice but to confront it. And maybe uncover a clue or two.