For No. 1 Villanova, the opponent doesn’t matter even anymore

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If you think the reason Villanova’s Josh Hart, Darryl Reynolds, Mikal Bridges and companywere diving for loose balls and challenging every shot like the game was on the line —rather than playing with a 30-point lead — was because they were trying to avenge their 2016 Big East title game loss to Seton Hall, then you just don’t know these Wildcats.

To them there was no hidden agenda. Pirates were simply the next game on the schedule. And if you think the fact the Associated Press pollsters moved them back to No. 1 — jumping right over No. 2 Kansas — gives the Wildcats any extra incentive, forget that notion, too.

If anything it’s one more distraction Jay Wright could do without. But to any objective observer witnessing the Cats thorough 76-46 destruction of The Hall Monday night, clearly this is a team worthy of such acclaim.

“They can compete with anybody,“ said Bill Raftery, analyzing the game for Fox, while injured Sixers’ top draft pick Ben Simmons sat on the front row just a few seats away. “They play excellent defense and they have a really tough schedule. “They deserve No. 1. It’s good for the fans. Good for the school and it doesn’t hurt recruiting. I asked Jay about it and he said it only counts in March.But anything can happen.”

The Wildcats proved that last March and April, winning it all when Kris Jenkins made the shot they’ll never stop talking about on the Main Line. But with March Madness still more than two months away the main thing Nova is thinking about is Providence, their next opponent Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s nice,” said senior center Darryl Reynolds of the accolades. “You appreciate it, but then you move on. “Like Coach say it can do nothing but distract us. It’s not our job (to impress the pollsters, with the Coaches poll putting Kansas on top and Nova No. 2). “Our job is go out and play Villanova basketball and leave the numbers to the numbers guys.”

But they all knew they failed to play “Villanova basketball,” against St. John’s Saturday, struggling most of the way, before finally putting away the feisty Red Storm, 70-57. Wright didn’t have to say a word, He just let them watch the film and seniors Reynolds, Hart and Jenkins took it from there.

“I’m really fortunate to have three guys that are experienced and who’ve been successful but are really humble,” said Wright, who had five players reach double figures in this one — topped by Jenkins with 16, while Reynolds chipped in with 8 and a game high nine rebounds. “They looked at the film and saw St John’s played harder than us, so they took care of it. The seniors set the tone.”

The result was 40 minutes of relentless hoops, where the scoreboard seemed totally irrelevant.

“That’s the consistency issue we talk about,” said Reynolds, a regular starter for the first time in his career, though injuries to Daniel Ochefu last year led to him starting six times. “We’re playing like we’re down 30 or 20 or not at all. “Doing all those things, no matter what the score, builds on that consistency.”

The opponent doesn’t matter, either.

“It’s our next game,” said the 6-foot-9 Reynolds, who helped guide Lower Merion High to the 2012 State title, then spent a year at Prep School before coming to Nova. “Villanova – Seton Hall been going on long before any of us got here.They did beat us last year for the championship, but it was our next game, so we just wanted to improve.”

The Pirates can assure you they did, as No. 1 Villanova emphatically stated its case, winning a school record 47th straight game at the Pavilion in the process.

“It’s just a number,” said Jenkins of the ranking. “We could lose our next game and wouldn’t be No. 1 anymore.”

It’s precisely that attitude why these top Cats figure to stay there for awhile instead.

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