After Villanova won the NCAA championship last April, the Wildcats have been the toast of the college basketball world.
They were the toast of the Big East on Tuesday.
Big East coaches voted Villanova as the unanimous preseason No. 1 team, which was announced Tuesday when the conference held its annual media day at Madison Square Garden. Wildcat head coach Jay Wright also saw two of his players (Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins) be named to the preseason All-Big East First Team, with Hart being named preseason Big East Player of the Year.
It’s still peaches and cream for Wright and the Wildcats heading into the 2016-’17 season.
However, Wright was all business Tuesday. He clearly wanted to compartmentalize last’s year’s glory and focus at the new task at hand: defending the crown. He knows the rest of the conference will be in hot pursuit.
To Wright, it’s nothing new.
Wright’s squad has won three straight regular-season Big East crowns, and he thinks his team has always had a target on its back. In that respect, he is not expecting much to be different this time around, even though his team is coming off winning a national title.
“In the Big East, we have been the hunted before,” said Wright. “I can’t see being the national champions making it that much different. It’s gonna be tough in our conference every where we go. These teams come after us hard. Anywhere we go on the road is bedlam. I can’t see it being any worse.”
The overall tone of Big East Media Day was enthusiastic, rooted in a celebration of Villanova’s championship. Many fellow coaches applauded Wright and his program for giving the Big East undeniable credibility when they cut down the nets last April.
They know what it meant for the conference as a whole.
“It’s great for our conference,” Providence coach Ed Cooley said about Villanova winning a title. “There were a lot of naysayers when the new realignment (took place), and a lot of the naysayers I’m looking at are right in this room. All we’ve done (as a conference) is average five teams in the tournament–half the league–for three straight years, win a national championship and have (multiple) lottery picks.
“Last time I checked, the Big East was doing unbelievable.”
Marquette head coach Steve Wojciechowski believes Villanova winning a national title can get the casual fan to tune into more Big East games.
“It helped,” Wojciechowski said. “When you talk about the casual fans and the perception of college basketball, a lot of that is shaped in March. Villanova making that run certainly helped the league’s perception.”
One team which has its eyes on Villanova’s prize, and can legitimately challenge its supremacy, is Xavier. “X” was voted the No. 2 team in the preseason Big East poll.
Backed by the superstar backcourt of Edmond Sumner, Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura–the former two were named to the preseason All-Big East First Team–the Musketeers are experienced and wont back down from a challenge.
“Everybody knew they (Villanova) were capable of it (winning it all),” Xavier head coach Chris Mack said. “We experienced it for three years and it was great for them to open eyes across the country to what insiders already knew.”
Mack knows he has a challenge ahead in knocking Villanova off its lofty perch, but he is prepared to go to battle once again. He feels his team is battle-tested.
“It’s going to take a big-time effort to knock them off,” said Mack. “They got experience back, but I like our team. I love our hunger and experience as well.”
How will Villanova’s title run enhance the profile of the Big East?
DePaul head coach Dave Leitao weighed in:
“There has been this conversation over the last few years about the way to ascend to a championship is that you have to be part of this football congregation. Our stance as a league is that the history and the tradition of the Big East speaks for itself.”
“I think that (Villanova winning) in and of itself was a huge statement. It showed to the college basketball world about who we are, who we have been, but also what we maintain ourselves to be.”