Younger Wildcats team getting ready for Big East Tournament

Villanova Wildcats guard Justin Moore (5) shoots as Georgetown Hoyas guard Jahvon Blair (0) looks on during the first half at Capital One Arena.
Photo credit Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports
PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The bright lights of New York City have blinded many throughout history. Jay Wright is hoping that won't happen to his young group of Wildcats.

Villanova has won three straight Big East tournaments, but those Wildcats featured a more experienced group of players. So far, this younger team has been impressive during a season in which the Big East re-emerged as one of the toughest conferences in college basketball.

Villanova finished 24-7 overall and 13-5 in conference play, which was good enough for a three-way share of the Big East regular season crown. Now, it's on to Madison Square Garden, and Wright is hoping his players will handle the pressure of playing in the building known as "The World's Most Famous Arena."

"I've got to see how these guys react to Madison Square Garden," said Wright. "It's a big thing. I still get excited going there. They're 18, 19 years old. They're going to be excited."

Will they be able to keep their emotions in check? Playing in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden is a unique experience. Some of the players got a taste of it over the last year or two, but the freshmen will experience it for the first time. 

First-year standout Jeremiah Robinson-Earl says he is getting ready for the excitement of playing in New York City while keeping his focus on the court.

"I've just heard that's it a great experience," Robinson-Earl said. "We've just got to stay focused on each other and the players and coaches and not get too caught up on how Madison Square Garden and the fans are. It's staying focused on the task at hand."

Predicting the Big East winner is not exactly a safe bet, no matter who the selection is for the prognosticators. All of the teams, including Villanova, have had their share of ups and downs.  Creighton and Providence appear to be the teams playing the best basketball heading into the tournament. However, preseason favorite Seton Hall is also expected to be one of the top challengers.  

Then there are the Wildcats, who have beaten every team in the league at least once.  Junior guard Collin Gillespie believes the players can build off of what they have learned from the regular season.

"I think we've learned a lot over the course of the year," said Gillespie. "You learn from every game. You make mistakes. We're not perfect, so we learn. We grow and watch film and our guys have grown from it."

Part of that growth has been winning close games. Another part has been learning how to manage a lead. Villanova had double-digit leads in their last two games but needed some last-second heroics to pull out a pair of victories. Wright has preached how important every possession is and hopes his team has learned from its mistakes as the Wildcats prepare to take the court in New York.

"The good thing about these tournament games is that usually you don't get those leads," Wright said. "It's just young guys. They know when they're in a close game. They know every possession counts. When they get a lead, they're just not used to that. Maybe the lesson is learned."