RIGHT OR OTHERWISE, Villanova's December won't be defined by beating La Salle by 29 points Sunday at the Pavilion, one of three Big 5 matchups for the Wildcats in the month.

Just as, fair or not, their March won't be measured by whether they can win the Big East Tournament again.

They've now taken 12 straight City Series games. One was by less than 13. Six have been by 21 or more. They've lost two nonconference regular-season games since 2012. One by 16, the other by 23. The other was a week ago, in their previous game, to seventh-ranked Oklahoma in Honolulu on the 74th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Before the rout was over, I got a message from a frequent Villanova emailer who wrote: "Same old Wildcats . . . We already know how this is going to end."

Well, no we don't. Because each journey is unique. Stuff changes. But his point was that coach Jay Wright doesn't, and that's why he's going to fail when it matters most, like maybe even before the second week of the NCAA Tournament for a third straight time.

Seems like kind of a harsh assessment to me, especially for a program that has won 70 of its last 79. Yet I know that in a bunch of minds, that's what's out there since two of those losses came in their second NCAA game, first as a No. 2 and then a No. 1 seed. So how many really care that they set a Main Line record for regular-season wins in 2013-14, and a record for overall victories a year ago?

One of the prevailing theories for those not-so-happy endings was that they didn't play enough quality games in their conference anymore, which meant they weren't properly prepared for the kind of opponents that awaited them in the Madness. In the old Big East you got a steady diet of Top 25s. These days, not nearly as much.

When putting together an itinerary, they're obviously locked into the Big 5 games. And last season they did play Michigan and VCU early. And Syracuse later. So how much did any of those tests come into play when North Carolina State eliminated them?

The No. 9 Wildcats (8-1), who should drop in the polls, will next go to No. 10 Virginia (8-1) on Saturday. It's one of those games that figures to have a Sweet 16 feel to it. Nothing wrong with that, as we continue to find out more about a group that has three new starters. The Cavaliers were probably scheduled for that reason, right?

"It would (mean more) if you had them at the end of the year," said Wright, whose team also played in the Preseason NIT and the inaugural Gavitt Games against the Big Ten. "What they do now for you is get you ready for league play. But as far as getting you ready for March, it really does nothing.

"The later games all add to what you are as a team at that point in the year."

In case you haven't been paying close enough attention while you are waiting for the Eagles to do whatever they're going to do, the Big East has three other ranked teams, in Xavier, Providence and Butler. The foursome is a combined 36-3. And Georgetown is also receiving votes. So there should at least be more opportunities for Villanova to be legitimately pushed in the new year. And December closes with Xavier here. Looking way ahead, three of the final five games are against Butler and G-town here and the rematch with "X" in Cincinnati.

"You always want to challenge yourself," said Wright, whose closest wins were two 14-pointers. "It's a balance. You want to play as many good games as you can fit in. There's also a business side of it. You play local rivals. You need home games. And a lot of teams don't want to come here.

"If we played at Dayton, that's a national game. But we look at Big 5 games the same way."

The Wildcats got rolled by OU largely by going 4-for-32 from the arc while the Sooners were making 14 of 26. It makes a difference. Of course, there's always more to the story. But they've been really good so far in most other areas. Wright's teams play through the perimeter. And when you have as many talented guards/swingmen as he does, it makes sense. That doesn't mean it'll work every time. Against NC State last March, he tried to go to center Daniel Ochefu early. And he got open looks. For whatever reasons, he couldn't convert. So Villanova played catch-up most of the way and came up just short. It happens. When it happens two years in a row, that tends to become an issue.

These Wildcats will have to figure things out on their own. They have three more months to do so. Then they should be in another second-round game. And everything will finally matter.

"One of the things we've learned is that playing a 16 seed and then playing an 8 is there's a big difference," Wright noted. "So maybe we have to change the way we get ready between those two games."

How much Oklahoma or Virginia - or even Xavier, Providence and Butler - figures into that remains to unfold. But if nothing else, it will give the many outside experts something else to keep busy until then.

On Twitter: @mikekerndn