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Kern: Villanova taking care of No. 1

WHAT'S IN a number, anyway? It's mid-January. The Madness is still nearly two months away from capturing America's passion for three magical weeks once again. So logic suggests it really doesn't matter who's No. 1 at the moment.

WHAT'S IN a number, anyway?

It's mid-January. The Madness is still nearly two months away from capturing America's passion for three magical weeks once again. So logic suggests it really doesn't matter who's No. 1 at the moment.

Well, does it?

There's only one time each year when that distinction truly counts, as Villanova indelibly found out – for the second time in 31 years – last April in Houston. That having been said, when the Wildcats reached the top spot in the polls last season, it was worth celebrating since it was the first time that had happened in program history. And when they made it back there for five weeks on this current journey, well, a little confirmation is never a bad thing. As long as you take it for what it's worth. And sometimes that's a difficult thing to do, perspectives being what they can be.

"It was great to be No. 1," coach Jay Wright said last week, after his team had lost for the first time and fallen to No. 3. "I'd much rather be No. 1 than 3."

The reality is at this point there's not much difference between 1 and 2, 3, 4 or 5. That doesn't mean you shouldn't aspire to get there. It's all part of the deal, why we pay attention every Monday when the voting results come out. It's great for the fan base, and the school. It's publicity and recognition. And no shortage of schools would heartily trade with them. Just remember that at places like Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina, this is simply another thing to deal with on a regular basis.

The fact that in the last 12 months Villanova has elevated itself into that kind of company is probably more impressive than any amount of index fingers getting pointed skyward.

Whatever it means, it sure has been something else. Something we might never see again.

Monday night at the Pavilion, the Wildcats (18-1, 6-1 Big East) toyed with Seton Hall (12-6, 2-4), the team that beat them in the Big East title game, in their first game back at No. 1 following a one-week hiatus. Somehow they leapfrogged No. 2 Kansas, which received more first-place votes, after Baylor lost. Why ask why? It was their 47th straight on-campus victory, a program record. And the three seniors are now 115-14 for their careers, which of course is impossible.

Maybe they should be ranked ahead of everyone else. Whether they're the best team remains to be played out. They were hardly the favorite on Selection Sunday, according to Vegas. Right now those same folks have them tied with Duke as the third-lowest betting proposition, at 17-2. Which gets you nothing once the games start. Hey, they were tied for fourth at the start of the season at 16-1, with North Carolina. Should we mention that the last end-of-season No. 1 that took home the trophy was Kentucky in 2012?

The last time I checked, that's what gets you a banner in the rafters.

I sense that many observers tend to judge this team by what it supposedly doesn't have: a deep bench, a bona fide second big man, a bona fide second point guard and perhaps enough size. Yet here it is, halfway through the regular season, and the only blemish was at Butler, where the Wildcats led by one with 31/2 minutes to go. One win was at one-loss Creighton, another top-10 team. And these guys do know what it's like to win six games when the whole world is watching.

"They're No. 1 for a reason," said Pirates coach Kevin Willard after watching his team lose, 76-46.

They don't figure to stay where they are for the rest of the ride, just because. Asking them to finish 33-1 is probably asking too much. But other top-five teams will lose, too. Maybe even more than once. The real jockeying is just getting started.

"When (my wife) Patty told me we were No. 1, I was just like, 'Yeah,' " Wright said. "This time it's really not that big a deal. The first time is always exciting. We don't talk about it. We've been around it enough. We take lessons from it. I think it's helped us. We're going to keep learning from it.

"All the numbers are something that's become a challenge for us. And they're great challenges to have. But right now they don't do anything for us. All it can do is distract us. We know we're going to get asked about it. I'm almost uncomfortable thinking about it. You can't disregard the fact that we love to play, win games and compete. And it helps the program, not just the team. As a coach you have to balance both."

If anything, it might mean more to the folks they're playing, who could end up being the lead story on SportsCenter. Not that you could tell when you roll by 30.

"It's just a number," said title-game hero Kris Jenkins, who led five double-figure scorers (two others had eight) with 16 points. "Our focus is on getting better each day. We have to be motivated for every game. If we lose, we won't be No. 1."

Not that it would be the end of their world. Regardless of how long they stay there this time, appreciate it for being one more accomplishment on an historic resume. It might not be their last.