Villanova Rises From Atlantis

Villanova coach Jay Wright

Villanova coach Jay Wright

Dec. 3, 2013

Villanova Beats Kansas To Win Battle 4 Atlantis Title

By Sean Brennan

When Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats returned home following their brilliant weekend in the Bahamas, there were no marching bands greeting their arrival, no proclamation from Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter declaring Jay Wright Day in Philly, no talk of a James Bell Bobblehead giveaway Wednesday night vs. Penn after his MVP performance on the sun-splashed island.

And that's exactly how Wright wants it.

For the first time in almost three years, Villanova basketball is once again in the national conversation and back in the AP Top 25 poll. That's what happens when you knock off USC, then-No. 2 Kansas and finally No. 23 Iowa in successive nights to capture the prestigious Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in Nassau.

"This kind of reminded us of those back-to-back (wins) against Syracuse and Louisville last year," Wright said. "But winning three in a row and with the Kansas game on the second night, man, it was amazing."

The Wildcats' 7-0 break from the starting gate may have come as something of a surprise to some outside the Main Line but not necessarily to Wright and his staff. And while he could never have banked on an early-season takedown of mighty Kansas, Wright did think he had something special to work with several months ago.

"I did see a very coachable unit," Wright said. "I remember in the summer workouts saying to the staff after a practice that I feel like these guys pick things up quickly. It's was like they were in midseason form. It was bizarre. But I didn't know how it was going to translate against high-level competition. I knew we'd play well. I knew we'd play together but I just didn't know, because we had some young guys - we have just one senior starter and then two juniors and the rest of our core are sophomores and freshman - I just didn't know how it would translate at the highest level."

So far it has translated into an undefeated start to Villanova's season and a nice piece of hardware for the trophy case back on campus. Not bad for a program that was unranked to start the season and picked fourth in the BIG EAST preseason poll. The Wildcats boast four players - JayVaughn Pinkston (17.1 ppg.), James Bell (17.0), Darrun Hilliard (13.0) and Dylan Ennis (12.0) - in double figure scoring with Ryan Arcidiacono just off the pace at 9.9. It's the kind of offensive attack that may remind some of Villanova's vaunted four-guard offense of Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Co. from the mid-2000s, a group that led Villanova to a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2005 and an Elite Eight berth in 2006. But the comparisons only go so far, Wright says. "People keep saying we're undersized but I really don't think we are" Wright said. "As far as comparisons, it is in a sense that we always had four guys out there who can shoot the ball and that's what we have with this group. But our guards are big like Bell (6-6) and even Arch is 6-3. And Ennis is 6-2 and really long. So we always have four guys that can really shoot the ball and that's the similarity."

Villanova is currently ranked 14th in the AP Poll and it's their first visit to the Top 25 since Feb. 28, 2011 when the Cats sat at No. 19. "It's great to be ranked," said Arcidiacono. "It shows all the hard work we're putting in is paying off."

So how many times has Wright and Co. sneaked a peak at the poll in the Philly papers? Not much.

"We enjoyed the spoils Saturday night and Sunday in the Bahamas. Then Monday we came back to work knowing we'd probably be in the polls," Wright said. "And there is nothing negative about being in the polls. It's great for the fans, it's great for recruiting, it's great for the school and it's great for the conference. There's nothing negative about it but it just can't have anything to do with our team. We got to keep our focus on getting better every day. Now if we were in March and it's the end of the season and you're getting seeded for the NCAA Tournament, then there's a great value in it. But right now it's early December and we still have a lot of work to do."

Villanova's brutal December schedule sees the Wildcats facing three straight Big Five rivals beginning with Penn Wednesday night (on FOX Sports 1) before closing out the month with road games at Syracuse and Nova's BIG EAST conference opener at Butler on New Year's Eve, one of five league games which will be carried on FOX Sports 1 and kick off the conference campaign.

"(The Bahamas) was a business trip and we did everything we had to do," Ennis said. "But nothing changes now because we're ranked. We still have a lot of tough games left."