By Matt Leon
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – After going 19-12 during the regular season, including a 10-8 ledger in the Big East, the Villanova Wildcats will now head to New York City for their conference tournament.
The Wildcats are the #7 seed and they will face the #10 seed St. John’s on Wednesday night in the second round. Both teams earned a first-round bye.
“I feel good about our season, I really do,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright tells KYW Newsradio. “I think our team has grown. I love the leadership of (senior) Mouphtaou Yarou, (junior) James Bell and (freshman) Ryan Arcidiacono and I think those three, as our captains, are ready to lead us into the Big East tournament and we’re fired up about that.”
Thanks to a resume which includes wins over three teams that were ranked in the top-five at the time they beat them, the Wildcats would seem to be on pretty firm footing for an NCAA Tournament bid heading into the conference tournament. That is something that few would probably would have predicted back in November.
“I think in terms of how far we’ve come through the season, this has been a great accomplishment,” Wright says. “We were a lot of inexperienced guys at the beginning of the year and I think we’ve become a very close team that functions efficiently together on the court. As a coach, that’s very gratifying.”
When did the coach get the feeling that his team had turned the corner?
“It was kind of a gradual step,” Wright says. “It seemed like we’d take a step forward, a step back. Then we started taking two steps forward, a step back. Sometimes we took two steps back, and then one step forward. It was never really clear. We knew we could be a good team, we didn’t know how long it was going to take. We always kind of thought we might run out of time this season, but we know we’ll get good enough that we could be really good next year. These guys sped up the process a little bit, that was exciting.”
Villanova and St. John’s met once during the regular season, but that came way back on January 2nd. The Wildcats captured a 98-86 decision, in overtime, at the Pavilion.
“That was our first game of the year in the Big East,” Wright says. “Watching that game film, they’re a different team. (Guard) D’Angelo Harrison is not playing for them now. But they’ve had guys step up. (Freshman forward) JaKarr Sampson has become their leading scorer. And we’re a completely different team. Their style has changed, they don’t press as much. So it’s really two different teams.”
The winner of the Villanova/St. John’s game will take on Louisville in the quarterfinals on Thursday.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.