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Jensen: Villanova's big on campus, and away from it

Dick Vitale doesn't merely have his finger on the pulse of college basketball. In many respects, Vitale is the pulse of college basketball. His enthusiastic free associations during ballgames wind around the entire sport.

Dick Vitale doesn't merely have his finger on the pulse of college basketball. In many respects, Vitale is the pulse of college basketball. His enthusiastic free associations during ballgames wind around the entire sport.

That's why it was a little surprising to hear Vitale say during an ESPN telecast in early January that Villanova - then No. 1, and now No. 1 again - wasn't getting enough national publicity for a No. 1 team. Vitale acknowledged his thinking includes the Big East not having games on ESPN anymore.

Whatever the reasons, Vitale was off on this one. Publicity has, in fact, poured into the Main Line, with every major national outlet, including ESPN, getting to Villanova's campus. Stories in the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, USA Today, etc. ESPN guys like Andy Katz and Jay Bilas have talked regularly about the Wildcats. An writer, Dana O'Neil, just wrote a book about Villanova.

"I know personally what I have to do, and it's a lot," Villanova coach Jay Wright said Friday about requests for his team. The big difference, he said, is the requests for Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. How many times do the defending national champs reach No. 1 the next season and have two guys like this back? One is a strong candidate for national player of the year, the other hit the shot that is part of college basketball history.

"I think individually they are getting a lot more attention," Wright said. "I know there are a lot more requests for them. I know they're spending a lot more time than any player we've had in the past doing media every day. . . . Which is tough on a college kid. We're not complaining. It is impactful for a kid."

This is an interesting point to look at the breakup of the old Big East and how the new deals have been working out for exposure, separate from play on the court. With this new deal, Fox is looking for star power and Villanova, of course, is that star right now.

That means when the Eagles play the Cowboys on Fox, televised nationally, there is a promo, "Watch Josh Hart and top-ranked Villanova take on Butler . . ."

FS1 telecasts are up almost 30 percent from the first season of the contract, but there still is a gap between FS1 and ESPN ratings. Nobody is denying that. The guess here is that Villanova could win five national titles and that gap wouldn't be made up.

Where Villanova makes up some of the difference is that the Fox network itself, which typically draws larger ratings than ESPN, is showing 13 regular-season games this season and six will involve Villanova, starting with Saturday's noon game against Providence at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova will be on Fox - not FSI, the main network - every weekend the rest of the regular season, except for a St. John's game pegged for the CBS Sports Network, which is not the main CBS network.

The Fox deals also work for Villanova in that instead of a weeknight game with American in December being on PHL17 and ESPN X, Y or Z, it's on FSI. That's not true for DePaul obviously, but we're not talking about DePaul. Big East coaches, very sensitive to this issue, will tell you recruits have found their way to Fox for games.

Maybe the proof that Villanova gets its rightful share of pub came this week when Associated Press voters, who had Villanova third the previous week behind Baylor and Kansas, had Villanova jump Kansas back up to No. 1 after Baylor got beaten.

"Just the fact we got voted from three to one - you've got to have good national exposure for people to vote for you," Wright said. "That surprised me actually."

Would that have happened three years ago with the new Big East just starting up?

"I don't think so," Wright said.

Has Hart picked up that in opposing gyms - or anywhere, say in South Dakota - people are more likely to know his name?

"Ah, not really," Hart said, then he looked into the three cameras at Friday's practice. "People in South Dakota, how you doing?"

He was just playing - the three cameras were from the local CBS, ABC and Fox affiliates, unlikely to push Hart's words much past South Jersey.

"When you do think about it, it's cool," Hart said of the overall picture.

He has seen his photo on the screen in promos during NFL games - usually Redskins games, since he's a D.C. guy - "We're Redskins fans, sorry Philly guys."

"You see that, and obviously at the moment, you're like, 'OK, cool,' " Hart said. "To be able to get that kind of exposure, get your name out there a little more than in previous years, that's always a blessing. But I've just got to keep going."

As for Vitale, he likes being in the middle of the action. Dickie V probably just misses having the nation's top-ranked team alongside him on ESPN's Big Monday.

"Yeah, I think so," Wright said.