February 08, 2016
Never before — despite all the winning its basketball program has done, especially recently — has Villanova been able to call itself the No. 1 team in the nation. Not during the 2009 season that saw them go all the way to the Final Four. Not back in 1985 when they won the National Championship. Never.
That all changed Monday afternoon, when Jay Wright’s Wildcats were voted as No. 1 in both the AP Top 25 rankings and the USA TODAY coaches poll. They received 32 of the possible 65 first-place votes. Maryland, who is ranked second, received thirteen. Oklahoma, who beat 'Nova by 23 points earlier this season, finished third.
After coming in third last week, Villanova beat Creighton (83-58) and Providence (72-60) to improve to 20-3 on the season. That allowed them to jump over the top two teams — No. 1 Oklahoma (19-3) lost to Kansas State and No. 2 UNC (19-4) lost to both Louisville and Notre Dame this week.
It's a milestone that has been a long time coming for Wright and his team, but as the 15-year head coach knows all too well, where you're ranked in early February is far less important than where you are in late March.
Or, if he has his way, early April.
"We're honored and humbled to have been voted No. 1 by the writers in the Associated Press poll and the coaches in the USA Today Coaches poll," said Wright, whose team was ranked second in the final AP poll last season. "There's still a lot of basketball left to be played and handling this will be another challenge for our team. We look forward to it."
The Wildcats, led by guards Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono, travel to DePaul on Tuesday night before returning home to face St. John's at the Pavilion, a couple of very winnable games.
Then, things will get interesting for local hoops fans.
Villanova will make the short trip into the city for a road Big 5 game at Temple, a game that won’t be played until after next week’s poll is released. At least until their matchup on North Broad, Temple fans should be rooting for Villanova to keep winning. That would give their team a shot at not only upsetting a local rival, but also knocking off the top team in the nation.
The Owls' last win over a top-ranked team came back in 2000, when they knocked of No. 1 Cincinnati. Since, Temple is 0-5, with four of the losses coming to Duke (the other at the hands of Kansas).
So far this season, Fran Dunphy's Temple team is 3-3 against Top 25 teams. That includes a season-opening loss to then-No. 1 North Carolina and a win over previously undefeated SMU, ranked eighth at the time. And, after losing each of their first three games to ranked opponents, the Owls have won each of their last three.
• Jan. 24 -- Beat (8) SMU, 89-80
• Jan. 5 -- Beat (23) UConn, 55-53
• Dec. 29 -- Beat (22) Cincinnati, 77-70
• Nov. 13 -- Lost to (1) No. Carolina, 91-67
• Nov. 20 -- Lost to (22) Butler, 74-69
• Nov. 22 -- Lost to (16) Utah, 74-68
As for the Wright’s squad, they have just one more regular season game against a ranked opponent — they visit No. 5 Xavier on Feb. 24.