EVERY SEASON is a journey unto itself. Villanova's basketball team, which is ninth in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll, has to replace three starters from a team that won a program-record 33 games and entered the NCAA Tournament ranked second behind unbeaten Kentucky.
One was the top scorer. Two were four-year starters. All were among its best defensive players. One transferred to Oregon for his senior season, so he could get more time at point guard. At least his replacement, Jalen Brunson, is considered one of the best freshmen at that position.
Some stuff doesn't change. The biggest thing most folks want to know about Jay Wright's 15th team on the Main Line is whether it will get past the second round of the only tournament that counts for the first time since 2009. It's the same question people asked this time a year ago, when the Wildcats were coming off a 29-win season and set a school record for regular-season victories.
Fair or not, that's the reality. It's October and the focus for many on the outside is already on March. Especially since the East Regional will be held in the Wells Fargo Center, where the Wildcats won two opening-weekend games in 2006 as a No. 1 seed en route to the Final Eight, and did the same three years later as a No. 3 seed en route to a Final Four.
This five-month journey begins Nov. 13 against Fairleigh Dickinson at the Pavilion. Where it ends obviously needs to play itself out once again. First, you have to try to enjoy the ride.
"We know the expectations people have for us, and that's a good thing," said junior Josh Hart, the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, who might be the starting power forward at 6-5. "But the only thing that matters is our expectations of ourselves, and how we're measuring up to them. We don't listen to the chatter.
"Right now, we're thinking about trying to get through this next practice."
For 34 games last season, Villanova did little wrong. But what's remembered is that 71-68 loss to North Carolina State that ended the journey at least a game too soon. There's just no getting around that. Not that they're trying to.
"We look at that game and the season as two distinct things," said Wright, whose team was the overwhelming pick to finish first in the conference. "We are very clear about the fact that no one else looks at it that way. And we don't expect anyone else to look at it that way. We get judged by losing in the second round of the (NCAAs) . . . You've got to take a hit when you don't do it.
"What we have to do this year is be that good of a team again. We can be a really good team. We had to spend a lot of time, we really did, on making them really believe we did some great things last year. It's definitely a challenge to hear everybody talking about how far you're going to get in the tournament when you know from experience you have so much work to do to get there. But it's a good challenge to have.
"I'm glad we are what we are, but there are a lot of pitfalls. We don't want their thoughts to get away from how much better we have to get. We want to make sure we're all on the same page."
Now, then, and every step of the way in between.