NEW YORK -- It took Jay Wright two months and the cocoon of a cross-country plane trip to finally pop the game film in his laptop. What he saw wasn't pretty, maybe not as bad as he thought it was in live time, but pretty bad nonetheless.
But by the time the wheels touched down in California, the Villanova coach had made his peace with the horror film that was his top-seeded Wildcats' loss to NC State in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"You move on," Wright said yesterday during Big East media day.
He knows that he, and maybe his returning players, are the only ones who have.
Villanova again has been picked as the favorite to win the Big East, will start the season ranked in the Top 25 … and will lug around an albatross of a modifier for much of the year. Villanova is, until proven otherwise, the really good team that can't win in March with a litany of lousy flameouts. The Wildcats have made five NCAA tournament appearances since their Final Four run in 2009; none have lasted beyond the first weekend, and that includes one appearance as a 1-seed and twice as a No. 2.
Wright could argue that his team went 33-3 a year ago, won the Big East regular-season crown and the conference tournament; he also could point to the 171 wins over the past seven years as counterpoint. He also knows it's not worth it.
"There's no way to combat it," Wright said. "That's why I say we have to own. That's the mystical thing about college basketball. It doesn't matter how many games you win or lose. You're judged on March. There's nothing we can do about that label. It's going to be that way all year. We can't get past it until we get there, and then when we get there, we have to win to get past it."
Lots of teams, faced with the same distasteful finish to the season, insist the unfinished business is a motivator for the following season. It sounds good, logical even, but the Wildcats are taking a different -- more believable, perhaps? -- approach. It's done. They can't undo the result of the game any more than they can repair the horrific 19-of-61 shooting that dug them the grave against NC State.
Senior Ryan Arcidiacono said he and his teammates haven't even talked about the game, much less how it will shape their next season, since summer school began. They simply don't see a point.
"We weren't the better team three times last year, and one of those times unfortunately was during the NCAA tournament," Arcidiacano said. "And honestly, I still think we had a great season. I don't care what anyone else says. No one can convince me otherwise. That doesn't mean I don't want to win a national championship or go to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight, but only one team goes home happy. Duke won the national championship. That's the only team that finished the season satisfied."
TALK OF THE TOWN
Facing a phalanx of reporters with pens poised and notebooks open in New York City is nothing new for Chris Mullin. In a city easily jaded and quickly on to the next thing, Mullin for four years was the Big Apple's darling.
So yesterday when he grabbed a seat behind the St. John's table in the Madison Square Garden theatre and was immediately swarmed by the attending media, it was business in usual. Well, sort of.
Mullin is here again to make the Red Storm shine, only this time he's the coach. The school went into its history to try to restore its luster when it named Mullin, with zero head-coaching experience, to replace Steve Lavin. Mullin said he's still not sure which one is more difficult, the glare of the spotlight as player or coach, but admitted he has tougher questions to face and less impact on the results these days than he did as a player.
"The only thing I can compare it to, maybe, is when I was a GM," he said. "You really can't impact the game. I can't go in there and hit a 3-pointer or score. I'm a little closer to the court and have more impact as a coach, but you're still not out there playing the game."
The Red Storm faithful might wish he was. St. John's was picked last -- by a pretty large margin -- for only the second time in their history in the Big East. The ignominious distinction is well earned, what with a roster full of inexperienced players.
"It doesn't matter," Mullin said, shrugging. "It's not going to change how we practice tomorrow."
OLD MEN'S LEAGUE
If you glance over the Big East preseason all-conference selections and think it's 1987, you'll be forgiven. The league has gone in the way-back file to come up with its choices, putting together a team that includes four seniors (D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones and Ryan Arcidiacono) and a junior (Jalen Reynolds), plus another junior (Kris Dunn) as its preseason player of the year.
Seniors? Juniors? What are those?
"I hate to say the word throwback, but that's kind of what it is across the league," Butler coach Chris Holtmann said. "At Butler, we always want to be old. Our success, except the one year with Gordon [Hayward] and Shelvin [Mack], that's what it's been based on."
Smith-Rivera and Dunn both explored leaving early but opted to return for their final seasons. Smith-Rivera, already the first in his family to go to college, will now become the first to graduate.
"To my mom, that's bigger than any of this NBA stuff," he said.
Dunn, already a preseason player of the year candidate nationally, isn't likely to come back to Providence for an encore. But the added year has already elevated the opinion people have of him. Injured for much of his career, he finally played healthy last season. Plenty thought he, not Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono, deserved Big East player of the year honors, though Dunn himself brushes it off. "He won the Big East and the Big East tournament," he said with a laugh.
Now, though, it looks as if it will finally be Dunn's turn.
"I went through the lows of the lows and now the highs of the highs," he said. "It definitely gives me a different perspective. I'm proof that hard work pays off."