Villanova keeps the focus on winning

Jay Wright argues an officials call during the second half an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 67-57. (Michael Perez/AP)
Jay Wright argues an officials call during the second half an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, March 6, 2013, in Philadelphia. Villanova won 67-57. (Michael Perez/AP)
Posted: March 13, 2013

Idle time at this point in the college basketball season usually is good for players to recover from nagging injuries and prepare for conference tournaments. But it can be bad as well, especially when your television is tuned all day to a certain all-sports network.

If you're Villanova, you've been bombarded since last Wednesday's victory over No. 5 Georgetown by television commentators, ex-coaches and a ubiquitous bracketologist speculating on whether you're in or out of the NCAA tournament.

For the Wildcats, one thing is undeniable as they get ready for the start of play Wednesday night in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden: Keep winning and you have nothing to worry about.

"I don't think we can keep them from hearing it and listening to it," Villanova coach Jay Wright said Monday before practice at the Davis Center. "I think it's one of the challenges in coaching now is you know these kids are getting so much outside information that you have to address it daily.

"Every time they come in for practice, you've just got to refocus them. You've got to make sure they're not thinking about that stuff and thinking about what they can control, which is having a great practice."

Wright said that while he thinks the Wildcats (19-12, 10-8), who are seeded seventh going into their second-round game against No. 10 St. John's, are in the NCAAs at the moment, he admitted, "a lot of crazy things can happen that could keep us out.

"We don't control that so we have to go prepare for the St. John's game," he said. "That's the only thing we can control and so we're going to do that."

The Wildcats didn't need to worry about the NCAAs last year, struggling through a 13-19 season. Guard Darrun Hilliard, then a freshman, said he "had no idea" about ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi.

For this season, Hilliard said, "I don't even follow it. My head is spinning all the time when people talk about it. We don't focus on that stuff."

The Wildcats do need to focus on consistency at both ends of the court, even from possession to possession. They did it last week against Georgetown but not in the two games before that, losses at Seton Hall and at Pittsburgh.

So there is an urgency with an NCAA bid on the line, and with this being the final Big East basketball event with the current roster of teams. Villanova will play in the "new" Big East next season with six of its Catholic brethren and maybe Butler and Xavier.

But for this week, when he's not immersed with his team on the court, Wright will take a sentimental journey.

"I've said this a thousand times - there's a part of me that would rather win the Big East tournament than the NCAA tournament," Wright said. "I just enjoy being in New York. I enjoy the buzz in Manhattan, all the alumni that are there. There's something so special about that.

"This will really be sentimental. . . . I'm really happy about the new league. But it's never going to be the same. This is really going to be something that I think will be etched in my memory, the last one."


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq

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