The chants from the Villanova student section began with a little over a minute to go Saturday afternoon at the Pavilion: "We're No. 1! We're No. 1!"
Even though it's early December, there's still a certain ring to that, because not every school gets to shout it. Especially when it's for the second time in less than a year and with a national title run sandwiched in between.
Before February, the Wildcats had never reached the top of the polls. Last season they stayed there for three weeks. Now it should happen again, since top-ranked Kentucky was losing at home to UCLA at the same time the Wildcats (8-0) were beating St. Joseph's, 88-57. So the defending champions, who started at No. 4, will likely move up from second to first when the weekly vote is released Monday.
"I didn't know [Kentucky] was playing, before I heard the chants," coach Jay Wright said. "I just thought it was something else. Whatever happens, happens. It's something to deal with. I think it's good that we experienced that already. It affected us a little bit, not too much. Last year we really didn't know what to expect. . . .
"We did it, we lost it. We'll be fine."
And six weeks or so later they were hoisting a trophy, which is the No. 1 that lasts forever.
"It's definitely a nice problem to have," said senior Josh Hart, one of the team's six double-digit scorers. "At the end of the day we're not really worried about it. We know that's possible. There's not a crazy difference between 1 and 2, or 3 and 4. It's early. It lets everyone have something to talk about, and fans can celebrate. We still have to get back to work."
Hart had 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists (after getting nine against Penn in their previous game), the first Villanova triple-double since Harold Pressley (who had 10 blocks) in January 1986.
The Hawks (3-4), who lost their fourth straight, led by 27-24 after 14 minutes. Villanova closed out the half on a 20-4 spurt. The Wildcats made 16 of 34 triples. St. Joe's was 16 for 47 from inside the arc.
"When you play at this level you have to make shots," coach Phil Martelli said. "We're not a three-point-shooting team. [They went 5 of 15.] We have to make twos, and we didn't. That's what it's going to be for us."
Kris Jenkins topped Villanova with 20. Lamarr Kimble had 15 for the visitors.
The Wildcats have now won their last 16 Big Five games, and 42 in a row on campus. Most of the City Series matchups haven't been close.
"In every race there has to be a lead dog we can chase," Martelli duly noted.
And now the Wildcats will once more become college basketball's biggest target.
"We have to grind it out for 40 minutes," Jenkins said. "That's what it's going to take, to give us the best chance. . . . We want to come out and set the tone."
Next up is La Salle on Tuesday at the Palestra, followed by Notre Dame on Saturday in North Jersey, and Temple at home on Dec. 13.
"We'll have fun with it," Wright said. "We'll come in tomorrow and see how we can get better. We want to see how we'll handle this season, and how good this team can be."