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Experienced Villanova moves up to No.1 in polls

With Duke and Kansas suffering upset losses, the Wildcats took the top spot in the Associated Press and USA Today coaches rankings.

Villanova coach Jay Wright talks to guard Jalen Brunson  during the first half of the Big Five win over La Salle.
Villanova coach Jay Wright talks to guard Jalen Brunson during the first half of the Big Five win over La Salle.Read moreAP

Jay Wright isn't different from any other college coach.

If one or two five-star recruits came knocking at the door of Villanova and offered one year of basketball service, Wright would likely welcome them into the Wildcats program.

Still, dealing with a group of elite freshmen does have its negatives, and there's a lot to be said about the consistency of having a team of really good players who understand their roles, know the system a coach wants to implement, and have the experience of playing together for two or more seasons.

That's why after a series of upset losses last week, including one by Duke's "baby-brigade" that had sat atop the polls from the preseason, Villanova has moved to No.1 in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls.

The Wildcats (10-0) jumped from fourth to first, leaping over Michigan State (9-1), which is No. 2 after having been ranked third.

Villanova beat then 12th-ranked Gonzaga and La Salle last week to remain undefeated, while Duke (11-1) lost to Boston College and fell to fourth. Kansas (7-2) dropped from second to 13th after losing to Washington and Arizona State, both at home. Michigan State's loss was to Duke.

"It's always an honor to be ranked No.1," Wright said. "It's great for the 'Nova Nation and we appreciate the respect of the writers and coaches. We know it's early, though, and we need to get a lot better."

There is still a lot of basketball to played and, at the end, being No.1 only matters after the first Monday in April, but while this isn't a referendum on the one-and-done phenomena, it does point to the value of being able to build a program rather than having to reload every season.

Player-for-player, programs like Duke, Kentucky or Kansas will  have more NBA first-round prospects than Villanova, but the Cats do have two likely first-rounders in juniors Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges and they have players in junior Phil Booth and sophomore Donte DiVincenzo who will have a shot at eventually being drafted.

Like other programs, Villanova has developed a style of play under Wright, but it can't be learned in a few weeks. A coach can always incorporate talented freshmen, but the team is going to struggle if it relies solely on their talent.

Duke, under coach Mike Krzyzewski, has played a style for decades, but this year, he's dealing with a team that relies on four freshmen who are likely one-and-done candidates.

"We've played 12 games, and we're young," Krzyzewski said after the loss to Boston College, which is not considered a powerhouse in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "We're talented; we're not as deep. We're big. That's a different dynamic and how you have to play defense. We're not a good defensive team."

If a team can't play defense in college basketball, it is always going to be susceptible to an upset. That's not a problem with Villanova.

Wright hasn't had a one-and-done player yet. In fact, he's got just the opposite with six redshirts on this team.

Brunson, Bridges, and Booth all played on the 2016 NCAA championship team and DiVincenzo was a redshirt, practicing with that team every day.

Again, it's a long season, and Villanova will face a lot of challenges, particularly when the Big East schedule begins. The Wildcats will have to prove it each game to maintain that top ranking.