Villanova's Darrun Hilliard shook his head when reminded of his comments last October at Big East media day, when he wondered aloud why the coaches who picked his team to win the regular-season championship did not vote for a Wildcat to be named player of the year.

"I think it's wrong," Hilliard said that day at Madison Square Garden. "If you pick the team to win it all, that team should have the player of the year."

So isn't it fitting that when Big East officials convene Wednesday in the Garden to present the league's major award winner, the favorite to be named player of the year is Hilliard.

Hilliard and the Providence pair of guard Kris Dunn and forward LaDontae Henton were unanimous selections to the all-Big East team announced Sunday. Thus they are the top three POY candidates.

"I think the two guys from Providence are great players," said Hilliard, who leads the Wildcats in scoring with 14.2 points per game. "Being unanimous in this type of league is a great honor. I'm just taking it all in stride.

"If I'm player of the year, it's great. It's all because of [my teammates]. And if I'm not, I'm going to be humble about it and go to the Big East tournament with the same mind-set."

Hilliard, the Cats' 6-foot-6 senior co-captain, apologized immediately for his comments at Big East media day.

"I learned from it and I'll continue to learn from it," he said this week. "I came off the wrong way, as the type of person that I'm not normally. I'm a humble guy. That's not my M.O."

Hilliard has been a major contributor for the fourth-ranked Wildcats, who begin play Thursday in the conference tournament coming off their second straight regular-season championship. He averaged 18.7 points during a nine-game stretch late in the season, during which time he sank the game-winning three-pointer at Butler.

Coach Jay Wright said Hilliard's value to the team goes beyond just scoring.

"He is the leader of our team, on and off the court," he said. "Defensively he can guard small forwards, guards. He always hits big shots for us. Teams are leaning to him a lot more [defensively] and he's creating shots for his teammates. The way he's handled everything unselfishly and done everything for the team, he's put winning first ahead of individual accomplishments.

"I'm thrilled that he's a candidate for player of the year and I'd love for him to get it,"

Hilliard said he thinks the Wildcats have learned from last year, when they went into the tournament as the regular-season champ and promptly lost in their first game to Seton Hall. He said he and his teammates "won't get too high" on the hype.

"It's all good, but it can go away really fast," he said. "We learned that and we all know that. These accolades are really humbling. We know what comes with it and how to take it."

Speaking of accolades, they make Hilliard uncomfortable.

"I think it's just my personality," he said. "I don't like being in the spotlight by myself. I'm used to having all my guys with me."

He could be a little more uncomfortable come Wednesday.

@joejulesinq