’Nova knows how to roll as favorite
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.”