Jay Wright finds himself talking about the past a lot this season.

During the head coach's many meetings with a young Villanova basketball team, Wright refers to a trio that left last year with not only couple thousand points but also with an intangible edge he is hoping this season's group will inherit.

Randy Foye, Allan Ray and Kyle Lowry, who accounted for the bulk of Villanova's offense last season, branded the Wildcats with their ferocious defense and unwavering confidence before departing for the NBA.

"We talk about them a lot," Wright said. "Before we had [their success], we used players from other programs as examples. These guys remember. Everyone saw how they did things the right way."

Wright wants his team to adopt that attitude, and then he said he will get to addressing their offense.

"I don't want to worry about that until we become a very tough-minded and defensive team," Wright said. "We have to try to get there first."

The Wildcats (11-4, 1-2) can take another step toward "there" when they play at Syracuse (12-4, 1-1) today at 1 p.m. on CBS3. A win would even Villanova's Big East record, after dropping their first two conference games.

Villanova showed some of their defense of old in their win against Georgetown on Saturday. The Wildcats kept Roy Hibbert from even attempting a field goal and produced 22 Hoyas turnovers.

Wright brought up his dissatisfaction with the Wildcats' defense after losing to DePaul at home and a road loss to West Virginia.

"I was disappointed we didn't find a way to dig deep," Wright said. "We have to go through games like West Virginia. That's an experience for us. [Beating] Georgetown was so important to us. To play poorly and then to find ourselves and play well . . . it helps you the next time you go through that."

The outcome against Syracuse will start to show what type of team the Wildcats will become. Was defeating Georgetown on the road just a nice win or was it an indication that gets Villanova over the hump?

"Honestly, I don't know," Wright said when posed with that question. "I know it is something we can point to in the season. . . . Whether it spurs us on to play consistently, we'll see."

Villanova saw against Georgetown how its defense led to its offense - a trend it would like to continue. Villanova scored 16 points on the Hoyas' turnovers.

One of their keys to defense has been sophomore Dante Cunningham, a 6-foot-9 forward. He came up with eight rebounds in the second half against the Hoyas. "We got tired of losing," Cunningham said of the two-game skid.

Syracuse has seen its ups and downs as well. Three of Syracuse's four losses, including one to Drexel, have come at home in the Carrier Dome.

Despite the lack of the devoted Gerry McNamara traveling committee, the Dome can still be a tough place to play.

Although the Orange turned the ball over 20 times in a win Sunday against Marquette, they forced 23 turnovers and converted them into 27 points.

The Wildcats have not shot better than 38 percent from the floor since beating Temple on Dec. 30 and they've fallen behind in the start of each of their last four games. They have scored more than 65 points just once in their last five games.

But freshman Scottie Reynolds showed some swagger by scoring 25 and 16 points in his last two games and sophomore Shane Clark hit key free throws down the stretch to secure a win against the Hoyas.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5504 or sryan@phillynews.com.