A year ago, Villanova was careening to a 13-19 record. The NCAA tournament, which had been a consistent staple under coach Jay Wright, seemed as far away as Pluto.
The Wildcats began this season at 4-4, including an 18-point loss to Columbia at The Pavilion.
Somehow, Wright’s boys managed to win 11 Big East games.
Somehow, they managed to defeat Syracuse, Marquette, Georgetown and Louisville.
Somehow, they are sitting pretty at 20-12 (11-8 in Big East). Villanova’s 66-53 win over St. John’s Wednesday night in the Big East tournament unofficially punched their ticket to the NCAAs.
Just being in the conversation is amazing. And it has made Wright a national Coach of the Year candidate — Georgetown’s John Thompson III took the honor in the Big East.
“I don’t think we can keep them from hearing it and listening to it,” Wright said of the NCAA talk. “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.”
Do the Wildcats deserve a spot in the 68-team field?
“I think, right now, yes,” Wright said. “It’s nice playing meaningful games this time of year.”
Villanova seemed to be in after 28 games with an 18-10 mark. Then came a frustrating one-point loss at Seton Hall followed by an overtime defeat at Pittsburgh. Both were winnable games.
The Wildcats responded with a 10-point win over Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. That win likely sealed a return trip to the NCAAs.
“This team is playing the best they can play right now, definitely,” Wright said. “They can play better, but given where we came from and what our experience level is, we’re definitely playing our best and I’m proud of that, and I’m proud of them. But we have to continue to get better.”