PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Villanova has felt quite at home in recent years at Madison Square Garden. The Wildcats are hoping for another successful stay in New York.
Throughout the first 35 years of the Big East Tournament, Villanova had only brought home one championship. However, Jay Wright’s squad has cut down the nets at the Garden two of the last three years. One of those victories came last March, so the Wildcats will be looking to win back-to-back Big East crowns for the first time in school history. After another strong regular season, players such as Jalen Brunson are looking forward to another trip to New York.
“It’s really exciting to go and play in such a famous arena,” said Brunson. “It’s such a great atmosphere and there’s such tradition at Madison Square Garden. It’s definitely really exciting, but it’s not something that’s really important on our minds. We’re just going to go out there and do what we do.”
The circumstances heading into this year’s tournament are a bit different for Villanova. The Wildcats have been at the top of the conference for the last several seasons, but will go in as a two seed this year after finishing a game behind Xavier. It also means Villanova will play its first game at 7 p.m. instead of noon, which is something Wright’s squad will have to adjust to this season.
“We haven’t been through that in a while,” Wright said. “I never really liked the noon games. After you’ve finished the noon game, I liked that extra rest. You’re always concerned going into that noon game playing so early and the place is not full yet. We try not to have any of that effect us.”
Villanova will open against the winner of Wednesday night’s game between Marquette and DePaul. The Big East Tournament is never an easy one, but there appears to be more balance than ever in 2018. St. John’s has been a bottom feeder most of the season, but the Red Storm was able to beat Villanova in South Philadelphia this winter. Add the likes of Seton Hall, Creighton, Providence, Butler and Marquette and it is hard to envision any kind of cakewalk for Villanova and Xavier to the finals.
“It’s usually that way in the Big East,” said Wright. “If you at how the Big East has been with six, seven teams in the (NCAA) Tournament, that tells you how balanced it is. This year, it’s more than ever top to bottom. More than ever, you know that you could get beat at any time in this tournament.”
The one factor which may go against Villanova in this year’s tournament is youth. While several players experienced the Big East Tournament over the past two seasons, this is a younger version of the Wildcats than in year’s past. Wright and his players have admitted there are still parts of the game the players are working on at this point which was not a concern for senior-laden squads of the past. Wright is hoping the learning curve moves fast over the next few days in New York.
“We’re making progress,” Wright said. “We like this group. We like being together. We have a lot of work to do. We just don’t want to run out of time. When you get to this point, you might have two games left. We want to take advantage of every second we get.”