’Nova knows how to roll as fa­vorite

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Terry Toohey ttoohey @21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ter­ryToohey on Twitter

Once again the Big East bulls­eye has been placed squarely on Vil­lanova’s back. That’s no sur­prise, since the Wild­cats have been the fa­vorite since the con­fer­ence went to its cur­rent align­ment fol­low­ing the 2012-13 sea­son.

The Wild­cats re­ceived nine of the 10 votes from the league coaches. Since a coach can­not vote for his team, it amounts to a unan­i­mous selection for a third straight year.

But if you think the Wild­cats are all giddy about the pre­sea­son ac­co­lades you haven’t been pay­ing at­ten­tion.

They’re not into hype. Never have been and never will be on Jay Wright’s watch.

“We’ll take the honor, but it doesn’t re­ally mean any­thing to us,” se­nior guard Josh Hart said. “At the end of the day, where you’re picked in the pre­sea­son means noth­ing. You still have to go out on the court and prove your­self. You have to win. You have to do all those things that help you win. It’s cool to be able to put up your hands and say, ‘Hey, that’s us,’ but you still have to go out and put in the work.”

The chal­lenge this year, though, is dif­fer­ent. The 7774 vic­tory over North Carolina in the na­tional cham­pi­onship game last April changed how this team will be viewed.

“It’s some­thing we have not ex­pe­ri­enced,” said Wright, whose team has won three straight reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tles with a 16-2 league record each year.

The Wild­cats have to de­fend their ti­tle with­out guard Ryan Ar­cidi­a­cono and cen­ter Daniel Ochefu. Their im­pact went far beyond the bas­ket­ball court.

“The stuff they did in the locker room and in the dorms can’t be mea­sured,” Wright said. “They were so­phis­ti­cated, ma­ture guys. They kept ev­ery­body in or­der. It also helped that they were proven play­ers. When proven play­ers are that way, it has a greater im­pact. We don’t re­ally have that now.

“Josh, Kris (Jenk­ins) and Dar­ryl (Reynolds) are learn­ing how to be lead­ers. Some of the other guys are learn­ing how to be counted on now, like Eric (Paschall) and Donte (DeVin­cenzo), so it’s a dif­fer­ent team. We like where we are, but we know we have a lot of work to do.”

Ar­cidi­a­cono and Ochefu may be gone, but the ros­ter is hardly bar­ren. Six of the top eight play­ers are back. Hart was picked as the pre­sea­son Player of the Year. Jenk­ins, the man who hit the win­ning shot in Hous­ton, was a pre­sea­son first­team all-league pick. Guard Jalen Brun­son was an hon­or­able men­tion selection. Reynolds, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back.

Paschall is ready to play after sit­ting out the sea­son as a red­shirt after trans­fer­ring from Ford­ham. DeVin­cenzo and for­ward Tim De­laney are healthy after miss­ing last sea­son with in­juries. How­ever, the Wild­cats were dealt a se­vere blow when prized re­cruit Omari Spell­man was de­clared an aca­demic red­shirt be­fore training camp opened.

“We have to ap­proach this sea­son like ev­ery sea­son be­fore this,” Jenk­ins said. “We might have to be a lit­tle more fo­cused go­ing into this sea­son, but noth­ing is go­ing to change. We’ll have the same scout­ing re­ports, the same game-day rou­tines, the same prac­tice sched­ule. We just have to go harder. It works. We know it works and we have to believe in it more.”

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