Monday, February 8, 2016

Villanova's first AP No. 1 ranking is only the beginning of proving doubters wrong

                                          Photo Credit: Geno Green

36 seasons and two incarnations as members of the BIG EAST conference.

Yes, the Villanova Wildcats were not among the original members of the league, but are considered one of the five cornerstone schools left, along with St. John's, Seton Hall, Georgetown and Providence.

Up until Monday's rankings of the AP poll, the average fan of college basketball might rush to judgment thinking Villanova was ranked at some point in its run in the league.

The Wildcats are the very institution that gave the country the ultimate cinderella run in 1985 when an Ed Pinckney-led squad pulled the impossible by scoring an upset over the top-seeded Georgetown Hoyas— led by soon to be Basketball Hall of Famer Patrick Ewing to capture their first Division I national championship.

Ten years later, coach Steve Lappas led Villanova to the BIG EAST Tournament championship with a 94-78 win Connecticut behind guard/forward Kerry Kittles at Madison Square Garden.

Fast-forward to 2009, when the Wildcats went on an improbable run to the Final Four behind the play of point guard Scottie Reynolds.

The one invisible thread in everything happens to be that Villanova has never been ranked as the top team up until the AP rankings this week. 

After all of the time and accomplishments of the past, Villanova gets its chance to stand on top of the throne of college basketball Tuesday night at DePaul.

Any common fan will likely consider this game as a one-sided win for Villanova.

The cruel, unscripted irony of sports tells anyone that anything can happen.

Ask the then-No. 11 Providence Friars.

Providence was expected to dominate at DePaul, but a right ankle injury to Ben Bentil, likely derailed any hopes of a win.

The Blue Demons doubled its rebound total on the Friars, 48-24, on the way to a 77-70 win on Feb. 2.

Not only is the DePaul game a must-win for Villanova, but the above-mentioned should serve as a reminder of what can happen.

The Wildcats have been the team to beat since the BIG EAST re-aligned as a 10-team conference in the 2013-14 season and exuded dominance since by winning the first two regular-season titles.

Winning in the regular season can become complacent for any team, but for Villanova, the judge, jury and executioner has been its non-conference play in regular-season and NCAA Tournament play.

In its last four major non-conference games, Villanova has been on the wrong end of losses in third rounds of the 2014 and 2015 NCAA Tournament to eventual National Champion UConn and NC State, respectively. To put the cherry on top of the ice cream, the Wildcats suffered two critical losses this season— a 78-55 defeat at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners in this season's Pearl Harbor Invitational and an 86-75 loss at Virginia.

The journey is only beginning for No. 1 Villanova, as the doubters of the past and present will be surrounding like a stereo at every step along the way.

Villanova players to watch for at DePaul- Junior guard Josh Hart:

- Hart has an opportunity to surpass the 1,000-point plateau if he scores 16 points at DePaul and can reach the 500-rebound if he grabs 13 rebounds.

- Coming into the DePaul contest, Hart leads the Wildcats in scoring with 15.4 points per game.

Senior guard Ryan Arcidiacono:

- The rock behind the success of the Wildcats in the new BIG EAST, Arcidiacono scored 16 in a 72-60 win at Providence on Feb. 6 and is a finalist for the Senior Class Award.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @GenoSportsguy.