NEW YORK - After setting a school record for victories and winning the Big East regular-season title while finishing with a 29-5 mark last season, Villanova is preparing for an encore that conference coaches, at least at the ballot box, expect the Wildcats to achieve.
The Cats were the unanimous choice of the nine league coaches other than Jay Wright, who could not vote for his own team, to win the regular-season crown. Or as Wright would put it, just another challenge for a team that could be pretty good but needs to keep working.
Wright called the coaches' vote an honor that is accompanied by "a lot of expectations and a lot of attention."
"It's going to be part of our challenge this year in dealing with that," he said Wednesday during the conference's media day at Madison Square Garden. "We have a really difficult schedule this year, so it's probably not smart to try to beat last year's record. But we would like to be a better team than we were last year by the end of the year.
"If we can be a better team than we were last year, it would be a hell of an achievement. We might not have as good a record, but we could possibly be a better team. That's our challenge every year."
Darrun Hilliard, one of four Villanova players who accompanied Wright to New York, said the vote for the Wildcats "feels great."
"We're a veteran team," the senior guard said. "We've been through the bad and we've been through the good. I think Coach Wright does a great job in not letting us get content. We all do a great job on each other not letting anyone get content. We're all humble and we're willing to do whatever we've got to do to make the season a great one."
The Wildcats, who lost to eventual national champion Connecticut in the third round of the 2014 NCAA tournament, lost only two players - James Bell and Tony Chennault - from last year's regular rotation. But to Wright, they are two big losses.
"James Bell was the glue for us last year," he said. "He was our best defensive rebounder. That's going to be an issue for us. He was the emotional leader on the court last year. Tony off the court was a great leader for us.
"We've all seen those teams where you expect them to be great and they lost one or two guys and they struggle, and everybody asks, 'Why?' It's because you value the things off the court that the two guys did. That's going to be a challenge for this team."
Senior forward JayVaughn Pinkston was named to the preseason all-Big East first team, while Hilliard and junior guard Ryan Arcidiacono made the second team.