Villanova basketball ready for challenge
High expectations after best regular season in team history, disappointing postseason
LAST SEASON, all Villanova's basketball team did was something no other Villanova team had ever done. The Wildcats went 28-3. The only problem was, that was the regular season. Then came the postseason, where they lost their opening game in the Big East Tournament as the top seed and their second game in the NCAA Tournament as a No. 2. And these days, what you do or don't do in March is what most folks tend to remember most.
Now, the Wildcats return four starters and are the overwhelming pick to win the conference again. Yet the question lingers, would that be enough?
"I'm concerned about what [the players] are thinking," coach Jay Wright conceded yesterday at the Pavilion. "I really am. I mean, it's a concern because we had the best regular season in Villanova history. So you're not going to outdo that. So I don't want them to have their mind set on what we do in the postseason. And it's a challenge, because we've got a lot of work to do. Whatever our record is in the regular season, it's important that we're playing our best at the end of the year. We always try to do that. You're not going to play your best by the end of the year by waiting to redeem yourself.
"I am concerned about the human nature [of the situation]. I don't want to be a part of it, but I know it is. I think it's going to be our challenge, even as a staff, because they're kids. We did all this, but we didn't advance as far as we wanted to in the [NCAAs]. That's really not what it's about, but a lot of times . . .
"I personally don't feel that way. I know most people do, so there's a lot more people that will tell them that. And I've got to make sure [the message gets through]."
The Wildcats at least were eliminated by former conference rival Connecticut, which went on to win the national title. It's the fifth time since 2005 that they lost to the eventual winner, for whatever that means.
"It was a strange feeling," Wright recalled. "It was maddening to lose, and it was kind of inspiring to see . . . When we lost, I knew they were good. And I knew they were playing extremely well. To see them go win the championship made me feel kind of better about us. Doesn't do you any good, but that was just my feelings. I mean, that's the way I look at it. I know the tournament is really where is the team that matches up with you well. That's what the tournament's about. I thought in '06 when we lost to Florida in the Final Eight, I thought we could have beaten anybody else. I thought in '05 when we lost to [North] Carolina in the Sweet 16, I thought we could have won all the games they won after that. We lost by one. It's just where you run into them.
"And believe it or not, in '09 when we made it to the Final Four, all the teams we played along the way that had the big names, but those teams were young for them that year. Duke won the national championship the next year. I know that's what it is, but you still get judged on that. They'll get judged on that. I just don't judge them on that. And I don't want them thinking that way. It's going to be a battle. It's going to be different. Everything we're going to ask them to do during the regular season they've done already. Look at some of the things that happened."
They have all the ingredients. Experience. Depth. Lots of interchangeable parts. Leadership, even without James Bell. Now all they have to do is go out and do it all over again. Just with a different ending.
"It's not going to be pretty," Wright said. "But that's what you do. It's going to be fun."