The four scholarship seniors and juniors on the Villanova roster are in the NCAA tournament for the third consecutive year. During that time, they have been part of a progression from a shaky No. 9 seed to a mildly underachieving No. 2 seed to a description-to-be-determined No. 1 seed.
Lessons have been learned at all stops along the way, and the Wildcats hope their mix of experiences serves them well as they depart Tuesday for Pittsburgh and a Thursday meeting with No. 16 seed Lafayette in the NCAA East Regional at the Consol Energy Center.
"It's definitely a learning experience," senior Darrun Hilliard said Monday after practice at Villanova's Davis Center. "We went through those tournaments and we know what it is. We know the distractions that can come with it being a 2 seed and the distractions that come now that we're a 1 seed. I think that's the great aspect of this team - the experience."
Junior Ryan Arcidiacono said last year's Wildcats, who lost in their second game to Connecticut, the eventual national champion, "didn't come in with a great mind-set of coming ready to play.
"I don't think it got to our heads," he said. "We lost to Seton Hall in the Big East tournament. Even at the end of the year, we weren't playing great but we were finding ways to win. This year, I think we have great experience. We have good leaders and captains on this team. We're trying to keep each other humble so we'll be ready for any situation."
The Wildcats, who lost their 2013 NCAA opener to North Carolina, made a brief run last year in Buffalo that included an uninspiring win over 15th seed Milwaukee. That was followed by a 77-65 loss to Connecticut sparked mainly by a 21-point second half by Shabazz Napier, who was named most outstanding player in the Final Four.
With Hilliard, Arcidiacono, senior JayVaughn Pinkston, and junior Daniel Ochefu, Jay Wright has an experienced core group that will set the tone while trying to filter out all the expectations and hype.
"It's a climb of experiences and building of confidence," the Villanova coach said. "I think this group is a real confident group, not fearing failure, not fearing disappointment because it's happened, they've lived it. They're concentrating on just really competing and putting it all on the line. It's fun to be around that kind of group."
Wright not only likes the way his players are thinking, but also the way they are competing. In the Big East tournament, the Wildcats sandwiched victories by 35 points over Marquette and 17 points over Xavier around a nail-biter against Providence when they found a way despite subpar three-point shooting and rebounding.
It added up to their first Big East title since 1995, which prompted Wright to say, "It's really cool to stay overnight [Saturday]; we've never done this before."
And because he said the Wildcats are "really kind of hitting on all cylinders right now," Wright won't be working them hard this week going into Thursday.
"This is a different experience for us," he said. "Today we went for 50 minutes on the court. We watched film and got a lift in and we met for a little bit about Lafayette. But we're going to try to keep fresh legs."