PHOENIX (AP) Villanova already has lofty expectations this season as the reigning national champion. The Wildcats also have to deal with opposing fans screaming louder and opposing teams playing them harder.
Villanova has handled anything that’s come its way to this point, but everything ratchets up another level now that the Wildcats are No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the second time in school history.
”So far, we have,” coach Jay Wright said about managing expectations. ”This puts more on top of that. I do think last year when we were ranked No. 1, we handled it pretty well but I do think it got to a point by the time we got to Xavier where it got to us a little bit.”
Villanova had to adjust to being No. 1 for the first time in school history last season. The Wildcats handled it well through the first two weeks, but the pressure continued to build, contributing to a loss to Xavier.
Villanova went on to win the national championship and entered this season ranked No. 4 in the AP preseason poll. The Wildcats moved up to No. 2 by week 3 and this week received 57 of 65 first-place votes to supplant Kentucky at No. 1.
The Wildcats (8-0) at least know what to expect heading into games against La Salle on Tuesday and No. 23 Notre Dame on Saturday.
”We know what it’s like,” Wright said. ”We know what the attention is like, we know what the effort of the other team is like. Our first thought is, this gets La Salle to even another level.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said last week that he wanted his team to play a close game after the Wildcats won their first seven by 21 points or more.
Kentucky got more than that on Saturday, when it lost 97-92 to then-No. 11 UCLA in Lexington. The loss ended the Wildcats’ home winning streak at 42 games and dropped them to No. 6 in this week’s poll.
Kentucky (7-1) hosts Valparaiso on Wednesday and Hofstra on Sunday.
”There are great lessons out of this,” Calipari said after the UCLA defeat. ”I wish we would have come back and won. I would have liked to learn from that lesson a little bit more. But sometimes you need to get hit on the chin, especially at home.”
UCLA’s win over Kentucky gave the Bruins (9-0) a huge boost in the poll, moving them up nine spots to No. 2 on Monday. They also received two first-place votes.
UCLA also gets to savor the victory over the Wildcats, getting a week off before facing another difficult game Saturday against Michigan at Pauley Pavilion.
”We have a goal: from good to great,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. ”We’re not great yet, but we knew we were good coming in. We took a pretty good step toward being a little bit better than good.”
No. 5 Duke (8-1) has a tough game Tuesday night, facing No. 21 Florida at Madison Square Garden.
On Saturday, the Blue Devils will play UNLV at the new T-Mobile Arena along The Strip in Las Vegas. The game will be the first meeting between the teams since Duke knocked off undefeated UNLV in the 1991 Final Four on its way to the first of five national championships for coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The Runnin’ Rebels (5-3) are rebuilding in their first season under Marvin Menzies, and Duke is finally getting healthy, so it probably won’t come close to living up to that epic game 25 years ago.
Saturday has a big slate of games involving ranked teams, including No. 3 Kansas vs. Nebraska, No. 11 Xavier vs. Utah, No. 16 Butler against No. 23 Cincinnati, No. 17 Wisconsin at Marquette, and No. 20 Arizona at Missouri.
Teams to keep an eye on this week for possible entry into the poll next week:
Southern California. The Trojans (8-0) are still undefeated and have one game this week, against Pepperdine.
Ohio State. The Buckeyes (7-1) played No. 14 Virginia close last week, with Florida Atlantic and UConn coming up this week.
Florida State. The Seminoles (7-1) make a run at being ranked by winning all three of their games this week, a schedule that includes No. 21 Florida on Sunday.