10 days ago, Jay Wright tried to convince media and fans alike that then-No. 4 Villanova, wasn't as bad as their performance against Creighton had dictated. He attempted to persuade hard-nosed pundits that a basketball team with no true star power could be better. That he could be better.
A few simple words and a catchy, Wright-centric, phrase reignited hope within a fan base. It brought passion back to a program that hadn't seen concrete success since 2009. A team that hadn't loss since a 16-point setback to Jim Boeheim and Syracuse.
"We stick together, we win together, we lose together," Wright said several days ago during a Big East Conference teleconference prior to his matchup with Buzz Williams and Marquette.
"Win at Marquette or not, these guys come to play."
At first, one might think that's just conjecture. A coach's way to assure the hackling hyenas with pens and pads that all will be fine while he scrambles to figure out how to stop a competent conference foe.
But 10 days later following a slew of wins, the statement couldn't ring any truer. The melodic syllables that Wright perfectly carved from a small room in the bite-sized Pavilion to 'Nova Nation, couldn't sound any sweeter.
And it all starts with the differences in played halves.
Too many times have the Wildcats come out stagnant, looking depleted from a hard practice or as if they didn't study the game plan ahead of time. Marquette was within seven points at the end of the first half before the Wildcats shut them down in overtime. Georgetown was within five before a Markel Starks charge call and late buckets from James Bell gave the Wildcats the win. Temple was within striking distance after going 8-for-34 to start the ball game.
But when the buzzer chimes and the teams separate to their respective corners for fifteen minutes, the changes post-intermission are obvious. Villanova scored 54 second half points and crushed Temple to win the Big 5 title, it's 22nd in program history.
And those bullish second halves? They crushed opponents after slow starts against La Salle, Penn and Saint Joseph's. The second periods helped create the largest combined margin of victory ever in the city's history.
The 2013-2014 Villanova Wildcats: the unpredictable lot that's making believers out of pretenders, one tough game at a time.
And if you asked any student, pundit, analyst, journalist or whatever you could find prior to the season if they thought Villanova would have only lost twice in 21 contests, you'd likely hear a resounding "no."
That's the beauty behind college basketball. The ability to not know what could happen at any given moment, at any point in the season.
No one could have predicted a clean sweep in the Bahamas that would take down a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick or a hot shooting Iowa team and superstar, model-wife having, Andy Enfield coached USC squad. But there also wasn't one person who'd have guessed that Creighton would set a Big East record in three pointers made and completely embarrass a hot Wildcat team.
That's the beauty of it. The good, and the very bad.
"At the end of the year, we'll sit down and discuss what we did as a team what we accomplished." Wright said following the sixteen point win against Temple and winning the city title.
"This is a big accomplishment."
With 21 games completed and 10 left in the regular season, it could be safe to say that Wright and the Wildcats are performing at a high level. And while there can be excitement in early season success, Wright, just like any other coach or fan, knows that the true success comes in the warm weather of March. In the thick of the race for a title. A national one, to be clear.
"I think it's going to take a couple years to really figure it out, we are all guessing," Wright said a few days ago of the Big East conference. "We are going to be a unique entity and a problem for the committee. Top to bottom this year, RPI wise, the last team is Seton Hall. They can beat anyone in the country: Arizona, Wisconsin, etc."
No. 1 Arizona fell to California in the late hours of Saturday night. No. 17 Duke showed the world that a ranking doesn't show how tough one's team is in an overtime classic at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. No. 25 Texas proved competent enough beat No. 6 Kansas, a team much stronger and more complete than they were months ago. Georgetown beat No. 7 Michigan State. The message is clear.
College basketball season is just starting to get exciting. The real teams are beginning to emerge.
But it's the most unconvincing team, in the most unconvincing setting that is poised to convince the rest of the nonbelievers in the NCAA that a squad without any "true talent" or first round draft picks can do the impossible.
The formerly basketball-somber campus from 2011-12 on 800 East Lancaster avenues between skyscraper-esque St. Thomas churches atop the blue and white university may finally have it's chance to beam.
Not in the glory of an early-season championship in the Bahamas nor a city title that may have lost some muster, but perhaps a more important one in Manhattan. And maybe the most important one in North Texas at AT&T Stadium in two months.
"We stick together, we win together, we lose together."
Good move Jay.
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