After Back-To-Back Wins Over Top-Five Teams, Jay Wright Is Preparing His Team To Be Ready For Attention
The college basketball world has been turned upside down this past week thanks to Villanova.The Wildcats had backto-back victories against a pair of top-five opponents last week. Nova followed its upset of Louisville on Tuesday night by also shocking Syracuse on Saturday afternoon. The Wildcats are now 13-7 overall and 4-3 in the Big East.Jay Wright knew his team was starting to make some strides and now realizes the attention surrounding them. Wright explains in the following interview how Villanova won’t overlook Notre Dame on Wednesday.Jay Wright joined WIP in Philadelphia with Anthony Gargano and Glen Macnow to discuss the Villanova Wildcats having a tough defensive identity, the turning point of Villanova’s season, keeping this Villanova team humble after wins over two top-five teams and the implosion of the Big East Conference.
This Villanova basketball team has a tough defensive identity. It’s like a Philadelphia defensive basketball team. What do you think?
“That’s what we have been consistent in. We’ve been turning the ball over like crazy, but we have been playing good, tough, physical defense. We thought, as a staff, we are going to get there. We didn’t know when. But when guys play that hard and tough defensively you’re gonna get to be a good team at some point and we broke through Wednesday, and then Saturday was awesome, so it’s back to work today getting ready for the Irish.”
After losing to Columbia many people figured this wouldn’t be your season. What turned the season around?
“We honestly, as a staff, really felt like we were going in the right direction. What winds up turning it is you just gotta have that game. We played at Providence before that. We had 25 turnovers, but we led the entire game. We went in there and we were up 11 at halftime. That’s a tough place to play. That place is sold out. Those people are nasty up there. … That’s one of the greatest places in the Big East. Everybody there has money on the game because they are yelling at you about the spread and they are crazy up there. To go in there and really control the game, or even turn the ball over, we knew we were doing good things. We really did … but you are losing. So everybody else saying, ‘Hey this isn’t going to be Villanova’s year,’ and when you win two games like that in the public, you got a chance to be good, but it really had been going in the right direction. It really was, and these two games make other people say it, but like I said, these are 18- and 22-year-olds, man. Now they gotta deal with all the attention and we’ll see how we do against Notre Dame. Notre Dame is going to be fired up with guys coming in there.”
What do you have to do coaching-wise to keep your team grounded and not cocky for beating Louisville and Syracuse?
“It’s funny you use that analogy. We have an analogy that praise is like perfume. If you sniff it, it’s OK. If you swallow it, it’s poison. … This group of guys that we have, they weren’t a part of the Final Four. They weren’t even a part of our NCAA tournament runs after that or anything. This is all new to these guys. You have to earn your tradition every single year. It doesn’t matter. Whatever our guys did in years prior to this doesn’t affect these guys. What we are trying to teach them is today, and we’ve talked to them about this, that you are entering a whole new world now that you guys have never been a part of. Now there is expectations. There is scrutiny, just like you said. I don’t know about that article, but people know who they are now. Before, no one even cared what these guys were doing. It’s all new to these guys and they are 18, 19 years old at the end of the game you are watching, and you go home and you watch the tape of that game and the game ends and I just keep it running to watch the crowd. I see Ryan Arcidiacono, he’s 18 years old and grew up in Bucks County, Pa., and they are lifting him up from the floor of the Wells Fargo Center. He’s 18 years old and I am thinking, where is this kid’s head? What is going on in his head right now? Now they gotta go back to work, and we are going to go into Notre Dame on Wednesday and that place is going to be a raucous and they are going to be talking about how we just beat two top-five teams and they gotta be ready for what comes out of it.”
Do you have any reflections on the Big East?
“Yeah, at the beginning of the season, before we played the St. John’s game, for some reason a lot of the media asked, ‘Are you sentimental about the last year of the Big East?’ Really? I said, ‘No, I am not. It’s just the next game.’ It was the truth at the time, and then we played down in South Florida and we have a big alumni following down there and we do a tradition and we always speak to them before the game, and as I was speaking to them I realized, ‘Man, we are not going to do this anymore.’ Then we went up to Syracuse, and when you go up to Syracuse they got great restaurants up there, man, and they have the great Italian restaurants and we love it up there. We always bring a bunch of professors with us and we go out to dinner the night before. They treat you like kings in that town. It’s a great college basketball town and then when you go to play the game it’s the only place in the world you go out on the court before the game and there are people that are there an hour before the game. They are all talking to you nice and it’s an amazing experience and then to play in the dome, and after that game it hit me and I was like, ‘Man, we are not going to do this again.’ I did this as an assistant in the 1980s and back as a head coach it was something you’d always done. And then playing these last two games, as you said, there have been some great Villanova-Louisville games at the Wells Fargo Center. There have been great Villanova-Syracuse games. You just say, ‘Wow man, this is going to end.’ It really has been hitting me and we’re working on trying to keep this Syracuse series alive. We’re working on it, but it really does hit you. It’s sad. It’s just been a great tradition.”