BOSTON--They are here again, representing themselves as a national power and the top seeded team remaining in the NCAA tournament. They are also back in Boston, which has created a vault of memorable moments.
But the most dominant aspect of Villanova's appearance in the NCAA East Regional which will be begin on Friday night is its connection with the Big East.
The Wildcats, in the most improbable of situations, were part of a Final Four of historic proportions in 1985 when they emerged as the national champion from a select group that also included Big East brethren Georgetown and St. John's, both who were No. 1 seeds. Villanova was a No. 8 seed.
That was part of the original Big East, a league created by the late, great Dave Gavitt which, at its peak, can make a valid claim to the title of best basketball conference of all time.
Thirty one year later, Villanova, representing a new, smaller conference which emerged from the rubble of a conference which self destructed after a football-basketball family fight, emerged again as a national champion.
Although they didn't repeat last season, under coach Jay Wright, the Wildcats are again on the cusp of basketball history, the best program in a conference where basketball, not football, is the main event.
Villanova (32-4) will tangle with No. 5 seed West Virginia in the first game of a doubleheader at the TD Garden, while No. 2 seed Purdue will meet No. 3 seed Texas Tech in the second game.
It is fitting that Wright is the architect of the current Wildcat surge. His Nova pedigree dates back to a stint as a Villanova assistant on Rollie Massimino's staff--although not during Villanova's first national championship season in 1985. He has been the head coach since 2001.
Nova's presence as the elite team in the new Big East is unquestioned with 33, 35, 32 and 32 victories in the last four seasons, as well as the national championship, as solid evidence.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]
Wright's passion for Big East basketball has not diminished over the years. "I was hoping to be in the old Big East forever in the greatest league ever and the best basketball league in the country,'' he said at a press conference on Thursday afternoon. "" I never thought we would be at this point here where we are in the new Big East and now I think that's the best basketball league. And when this league first started, I wasn't as much concerned about this league as I was just really disappointed in the old Big East that we knew and loved that was solid and that it was going away.''
What emerged was a 10 team league which received 7 NCAA tournament bids this season. Nova, along with Xavier, the Big East regular season champion, were each awarded No. 1 seeds in the NCAA tournament.
But now in the Sweet 16 round, Villanova is the last Big East team still playing. That the Wildcats are doing it in Boston is also special for Wright.
""When I was an assistant at Villanova, every game we played here, we played at The Garden,'' said Wright. "Towards the end they (Boston College) had the new Conte Forum. But as an assistant I couldn't wait to get on the court and take a shot where Bob Cousy and John Havlicek played. I'd ride in there just totally uncool. I just wanted to get in there and take a shot. I always stayed down here at the Copley Plaza and Coach Mass had a Chinese restaurant we went to down here, the same place every time.
""Just great memories, just some great battles--then at Conte Forum, when Al Skinner was there (Boston College(), some great teams also.''
Villanova and Wright have good reasons why they have some fine memories in Boston. The Wildcats reached the Final Four out of Boston by beating Duke and Pittsburgh in the East Regional finals in 2009.
Now they are back, with more wins, more memories, as part of a new Big East that is looking to win its second national championship in three years.[/membership]