Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Meet America's forgotten team, the Villanova Wildcats

The Big East Conference‘s name lost some of its luster when (football schools) Louisville, Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut, among others, departed the league a year ago. But please, just don’t tell that to the Villanova Wildcats.

The conference doesn’t seem to get the same credibility as previous years and maybe for good reason, but head coach Jay Wright knew this team would be just fine regardless who was in their league, citing “that momentum from the Carolina loss [in second round of NCAA Tournament] and into the summer made you feel like something was going to be special.”

The Big East has been linked to one player all season, 2014 Wooden Award finalist Doug McDermott, and for good reason, but last time you looked at the standings, he isn’t alone at the top, Villanova is right there with him.

How have they been so good yet flown under the radar for so long this year?

Maybe because in their three losses (two to McDermott and company and once at Syracuse), they got their doors blown off? Is it because the new Big East has only two teams in the AP Top 25? It has to be because “big name” Georgetown and Marquette are down this year, right?

Who cares?!? THEY’RE 28-3, not to mention the Big East is still a power conference (#4 RPI). No respect.

It took Wright’s club five weeks to finally crack the polls but once they did, they created quite a splash. After a trip to the Bahamas ended with a 3-0 record (wins against USC, #2 Kansas, #23 Iowa) and the Battle 4 Atlantic title, the once unranked Wildcats catapulted to No. 14 in the AP Top 25 when the poll was released on December 2.

And here we are, six days away from Selection Sunday and people are just starting to acknowledge how good the Wildcats have been all season long. According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Villanova is (finally) a No. 1 seed in the latest installment of Bracketology. Lunardi also predicts just three Big East teams in the field of 68.

You won’t find many Villanova naysayers within the Big East as evidenced by the conference’s postseason awards. Senior and leading-scorer James Bell (14.9 ppg, 6 rpg) was voted first team All-Big East while junior JayVaughn Pinkston (14.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg) garnered second team All-Big East honors. Darrun Hilliard (14.4 ppg) and Ryan Arcidiacono (10 ppg, 3.5 apg) were Honorable Mention all-league and freshman Josh Hart (7.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) was named to the Big East All-Rookie team. Not a bad bounty for the ho-hum Wildcats. Oh, they won the league’s regular season title with a 16-2 record.

Numbers sometimes put things into perspective, so here’s Villanova by the numbers. They’re currently third in the AP Top 25 poll, fourth in RPI, and sixth in BPI. They’ve got four players scoring in double-figures, creating one of the most balanced offenses in the country. They’re sixth in three-pointers made (285) and have made 10+ fifteen times this year. They also dominated Philadelphia’s coveted ‘Big 5‘ championship, going 4-0 and winning by an average of 22.5 points. They’re 11-2 on the road and 11-1 in their past 12 games.They’re good. Real good.

The Big East Tournament kicks off Wednesday at Madison Square Garden and the top-seeded Wildcats have a 39.02% chance of winning it all, best of any team in the field (according to teamrankings.com). Yes, even better odds than Creighton (32.98%).

A Big East Tournament championship might open people’s eyes nationwide but win or lose, the Wildcats have their eyes on the bigger prize. “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, and Calhoun knows a little something about winning.

It’s about time America gives Villanova some love, after all, Philly is the City of Brotherly Love.

Tags: James Bell Jay Wright Villanova Wildcats

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