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For Jay Wright and Villanova, the words of Jim Calhoun speak volumes

Joe Robbins

In a dream season for Villanova, their game-to-game mindset has never changed. It's been one opponent after the next, never looking past a potential upset or a team hungrier than the Wildcats.

Yet, it's been a quiet season for No. 3 Villanova. The Wildcats have arguably garnered the least amount of fanfare of any AP-Top 25 team this season, landing in the poll every week since the 'Cats big wins in the Bahamas several months ago. They also started the season unranked, and have risen to the third overall spot for the first time since February 2010.

The Wildcats could potentially grab a No. 1 seed for March Madness, they've finished with their best records in conference play in the program's history and may have the most balanced offense in the nation. But none of that is important for head coach Jay Wright.

Whether Villanova falls in the Big East tournament or not, Wright just remembers an old talk he had with one of college basketball's greatest coaches.

"I remember Jim Calhoun told me one time, that we love this tournament but this isn't the big one," Wright said Monday morning during the Big East's teleconference between media personnel and coaches about the Big East tournament.

"For us we don't look [past the conference tournament], we look at it as we have a chance to play in a great 10 team tournament. We make it that simple. If we don't win, great, we get to play in the next tournament. We focus on playing the game and what we have to do basketball wise. That's it."

Calhoun, the University of Connecticut's former head basketball coach, announced his retirement in September 2012 after winning 866 games and three national championships with the Huskies, the last coming in 2011. The 71-year old Braintree, Massachusetts native won seven Big East championships and was inducted into the Basketball Hall-of-Fame in 2005.

And his lessons are one that have helped Wright this season. It hasn't been hard as long as the Wildcats keep it simple. Wright has said the same phrase after every game all year. He's consistently told his players at practice and before games not to look past any opponent. Villanova isn't a flashy squad.

Wright focuses on each game individually, not giving any contest more importance than another. But he does still hold the Big East tournament in high regard.

"This tournament has always been one of my favorite times of the year," Wright said. "Everyone loves going to New York and going to the Garden"

Most coaches seemed to agree.

"It's the postseason," Georgetown's John Thompson III said emphatically. "It's the Big East tournament. We are excited, and everyone is excited. Every game is tough."

But with the excitement of the upcoming postseason, Wright acknowledged that his system wouldn't have worked without help from the bench. His first-year assistant coach, Ashley Howard, has changed the Wildcats in more ways than one.

Howard, a 2004 graduate of Drexel University, averaged 8.9 points and 4.9 assists per game after his career was cut short due to injury. He brought the Wildcats a decade of experience to the bench and helped develop Wright's younger players.

The Philadelphia native also learned a part of his vast basketball knowledge from his father, Maurice Howard, a second round draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

His ability to learn the Wildcats style of play has been key to Villanova's continued success all season.

"He brings tremendous knowledge to our program and great experience, he knows the game," Wright said. "He's seen a lot of different styles of play and he's been a great addition to our staff and style of program. What's impressed me the most was him listening and learning. He's learned our system so quickly and so well that he can fit his knowledge into our system."