Wildcats in line for top poll spot

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Coach Jay Wright, Corey Fisher and the third ranked Wildcats could be No. 1 next week. (Ron Cortes / Staff Photographer)

Jay Wright knows - and he knows his players know - that the stars are aligned this week for Villanova to take over the No. 1 spot in a regular-season college basketball poll for the first time in its history.

Of the two teams ranked above the Wildcats in this week's AP Top 25, top-rated Kentucky lost Tuesday night at South Carolina, and No. 2 Kansas faces a demanding game tomorrow night at archrival Kansas State.

If the Wildcats of Manhattan (Kan., that is) can pull off the upset, then the Wildcats of the Main Line could be installed as the nation's top-ranked team when the votes are tabulated sometime Monday afternoon.

While this would make 'Nova Nation giddy with joy, it would bring with it a few more wrinkles to Wright's formerly youthful features.

"It would mean a lot to everyone; it would be great for everybody at the school - recruiting, everything," Wright said Wednesday night after the Wildcats defeated Notre Dame. "There's not a negative about it, except within our team.

"If we start playing for [the No. 1 ranking], you forget about getting better defensively. We have a lot of improvement to make. I'm not complaining about it, it's exciting for us. But when you start talking about all that as a team, then it becomes a distraction. So it's a new challenge for us. We've never had to worry about that problem."

The Wildcats (19-1, 8-0 Big East), who don't play again until Tuesday night against Seton Hall at the Pavilion, have been No. 2 twice - in 1995 when they raced out to a 7-0 start before losing to Temple, and in 2006, the same week as the start of the Big East tournament, where they lost to Pittsburgh in the semifinals.

The last Big Five team to be ranked No. 1 was the 2004 St. Joseph's Hawks, who rose to the top March 8 on the heels of a 27-0 regular season, but lost a few days later in the Atlantic Ten tournament.

Wright said it's hard to ignore what's going on across the nation because "we're watching college basketball all the time, all of us." He said he tries to address the possibilities with his team.

"We say, 'Guys, that's all great for everybody else, but we've got to concentrate,' " he said. "As long as it doesn't affect what we're doing when we're practicing and when we're playing games. There's no way you can get away from it."

Junior guard Corey Fisher said Wright "always preaches to us, 'Don't let nobody on the outside get to you, don't listen to how good you are, stay focused.' "

"Like Coach said, it's a great honor to be No. 1 but that's not our goal," Fisher said. "Our goal at the end of the year is to be the best team we can be. We can't pay attention to [No. 1]. We've got to get better every day and if we're No. 1, then we're No. 1. If we're not, we're not."

A memorable season. Yes, you could say Scottie Reynolds is delighted he decided to return for his senior season with the Wildcats.

Reynolds is averaging 18.7 points, 20.9 in Big East games. He has shot at least 50 percent from the field in 10 of his last 12 contests. With seven more points, he will become the eighth player in Villanova history to reach 2,000 for a career.

"I'm probably having the best time right now," Reynolds said. "Every time I step on the practice floor, or do anything with the team, I'm smiling. I'm just happy. This is probably the best year where I've just felt calm and happy to be around the team. I wanted to come back and play with these guys."

Reynolds filed as an early-entry candidate for the NBA draft in May and worked out for several teams, including the 76ers. But he removed his name from consideration the week before the deadline.

The hat trick. Maalik Wayns, the 6-foot-1 guard out of Roman Catholic, won Big East freshman of the week honors for the third time. With his 16 points against St. John's and 10 versus Notre Dame, Wayns has scored in double figures in six of Villanova's eight Big East games and averages 8.7 points overall.

 


Contact staff writer Joe Juliano at 215-854-4494

or jjuliano@phillynews.com.