Villanova is 10-0 and started the week ranked No. 4 in the country.
None of this comes as a surprise to even the most casual college basketball fan, as the Wildcats have emerged as one of the most prolific title contenders every season over the last half decade.
But after seeing No. 1 Duke fall to Boston College and No. 2 Kansas fall to Washington earlier this weekend — and seeing senior guard Mikal Bridges emerge as a potential NBA lottery pick this coming summer, the buzz around the 2017-18 Wildcats team is likely to grow and become unavoidably audible as the season transitions into conference play.
A decisive but hard faught 77-68 win at Wells Fargo Center over La Salle Sunday kept them unbeaten and served as an always good Big 5 test. It was one that comes a few days before their Big 5 finale against the 6-2 Temple Owls Wednesday night.
But heading into Big East play Villanova will be the team with the biggest target on its back in all of college basketball.
“We played the next No. 1 team in the country,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said after seeing his team lose a narrow halftime lead Sunday afternoon.
With Temple and Hofstra left on the schedule before conference play starts next week against DePaul, the Big East is looking to be one of the most solid conferences in college hoops — though will be lacking any big top 15 threat at least for the time being. The usual suspects Xavier, St. John’s and Butler will be strong opponents, as will up and coming Seton Hall and the Patrick Ewing led Georgetown.
Battle tested after winning three games in three games in the Battle 4 Atlantis back in November, they also showed grit in a blow out win against ranked Gonzaga in New York. As Duke, Kansas and Michigan State will have bitter tests in the ACC, Big 12 and Big 10 respectively, it stands to reason that Nova could maintain the No. 1 seed and be the top overall squad when March arrives and the brackets are revealed.
Which is nothing new for the Wildcats core of juniors led by Mikel Bridges, Phil Booth and Jalen Brunson.
“We’re a team that needs a lot of work,” Nova head coach Jay Wright said a few weeks ago. “This is a young team for us. Usually we have more juniors and seniors. We have no seniors and we’re playing a lot of freshmen so we have a lot of work to do, but I think we have the potential to be a good defensive team.”
Secondary scoring is also key and Nova got that from sophomore Donte DiVincenzo, who scored 18 points (and added 10 rebounds to complete the double-double), tied for the most on the team in Sunday’s win against the Explorers.
Not official until the next rankings come out, the Wildcats are once again the top team in the land. They’ve been a top 5 team in each of the last four years — and have also won a National Championship during that span. Look for the excellence to continue.