Villanova coach Jay Wright said when he's recruiting players for the Wildcats, his number one competitive priority is looking at how they can help Nova win in the Big East.
Wright, a guest on the March Madness 365 podcast, said he doesn’t think about recruiting to win in the NCAA tournament.
“We really concentrate on the regular season,’’ Wright said. “Other coaches always say everything is about the NCAA tournament. Maybe we should adjust to that. But we look at how can we compete in the Big East, then the NCAA tournament. It’s a tournament. It’s matchups. It’s injuries. It’s a break here and there.
“We have a team that competes for the Big East championship,’’ added Wright, whose Wildcats are in their second stint as the No. 1 ranked team in the country this year. Villanova has won all four Big East titles since the league was reformed in 2013-14. “These kids play 30-something games in the regular season and that’s really valuable to them. That’s going to be important to them for the rest of their lives. I never want their careers to be defined by five or six games in the tournament. I don’t think about that in recruiting. I think about what can we do in the regular season.’’
When asked how he would change his recruiting tactics to think more about the NCAA tournament, Wright said, “I don’t have an answer. I’ve never looked at it that way.’’
Wright said he has been as proud of teams that had sensational regular seasons and won the Big East as much as he was with the 2016 national champs.
Wright also discussed how the Wildcats handled a heavily tilted road/neutral schedule that was adjusted due to refurbishments being done to the on-campus facility at The Finneran Pavilion. Villanova has to deal with Wells Fargo Center priority tenants, the Sixers and Flyers, as well as concerts and other events. Wright also addressed the first meeting at the Big East, where he spoke up and suggested the head coaches look out for each other and not negatively recruit.
Sporting News and Big Ten Network contributor Mike DeCourcy also joined the podcast to discuss the national college basketball scene.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl was another guest and said the surprising Tigers, undefeated in SEC play, are a product of complete buy-in from the nine remaining scholarship players.
Top players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy are being held out of competition but can practice and are in school. Wiley will not be eligible to play until the 2018-19 season following an NCAA reinstatement decision while Purifoy's status for the season is still unknown. Ed. note: This week's podcast was recorded before the NCAA reinstatement decision for Wiley was announced.
Pearl said the win at Tennessee on Jan. 2 was an indicator that the Tigers could be a major factor in the SEC.
“To be able to go on the road and get a win, you know what that does for your RPI,’’ Pearl said. “It told us we can beat anybody. But we have no margin for error. We have 15 games left. We could win them all or lose them all. This league from top to bottom is as good as I’ve seen.
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Pearl said the quest to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 was helped by a neutral site win over Middle Tennessee and road wins at Murray State and Dayton. The 15-1 Tigers are 3-1 in Quadrant 1 wins on its team sheet — including wins over Tennessee on the road, Arkansas at home and Middle Tennessee on a neutral court. The one loss was to Temple on a neutral floor. The Tigers are 2-0 in Quadrant 2 with those road wins at Dayton and Murray State. Auburn’s overall RPI through Thursday is at 11.
“When you go and beat Murray at Murray, you’ve done something,’’ Pearl said. “It says something to the committee. We may not be able to get another power five home and home all the time but we went to tough places and came away with quality wins.’’
Auburn has three games on ESPN2, none on ESPN, and Pearl said he mentioned to his team that the Dec. 23 win against UConn and the upcoming games against Texas A&M and Kentucky, are on the TV schedule because of the opponent, not Auburn.
“They aren’t here to see us,’’ Pearl said. “We’re on ESPN2 because of who we’re playing. Every night we’re out there to prove them wrong.’’