Jay Wright: ‘Crushing For Me When Big East Broke Up’

As a native New Yorker, Brandon Tierney has been a fan of the Big East for as long as he can remember – to the point where the conference simply became a part of his DNA. He’ll be the first to admit that when the Big East broke up due to realignment, he had serious concerns – not necessarily about the viability of the conference, but rather, its overall strength.

As we’ve seen in recent years, though, the Big East is more than holding its own in the national landscape. In fact, Tierney believes the league is in great hands moving forward.

“Yeah, I agree 100 percent,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “And I know what you’re talking about. I don’t know if I’m articulate enough to explain the feeling, but if you grew up in that time in the Big East, for me, the Big East started when I was in college playing college basketball. I was at Bucknell. You play against a couple of those teams and you’re from Philadelphia and you’re enthralled with it. Then you get out of college (and) you get into coaching. When I got into coaching in 1984 – if you’re in coaching and you’re in the Northeast, what’s the ultimate? The ultimate at that time was the Big East. It was just such a part of our DNA, as you said, that when it broke up, it was so crushing for me. I don’t think I looked at the new Big East realistically. I kept trying to remind myself of that: Don’t be a stick-in-the mud, old Big East guy and not be open. It just was hard. I was worried, just like you.”

Those worries, by and large, have been unfounded. The Big East may get six of its 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament this year, and No. 4 Villanova (29-2, 16-2) seems to have an inside path to a No. 1 seed.

Not that Wright is too focused on that, even though Villanova went 6-0 against ranked teams this season.

“The seeding, we never think about,” he said. “I watch TV and listen to the radio like everybody. I’m just listening and I hear them start mentioning us and I just say, ‘Okay.’ I always think about it as, ‘What are our players hearing?’ So let’s address that and make sure this isn’t a part of our motivation. There’s nothing wrong with our guys watching TV and listening to the radio and hearing all these things – as long as that’s not what’s driving us. We just got to stay focused on just trying to get better.

“One of the things that we learned from going to the Final Four (in 2009) was that . . . (we) kept getting better every day at practice. Even as we went from the Sweet 16 to the (Elite) Eight, we just kept getting better.”

Interestingly enough, Wright felt a sense of complacency on that team once it got to the Final Four. Villanova lost to North Carolina, 83-69, in the semifinal, and the Tar Heels went on to win it all, beating Michigan State, 89-72, for the title.

“The lesson we took from that was we started to get a little complacent; we stopped getting better,” Wright said. “And maybe that prevented us from wining a national championship.”

Wright is hoping that is not the case this season. Villanova is the favorite to win the Big East Tournament and plays the winner of Marquette versus Seton Hall on Thursday at 12 p.m. ET.

Tierney also asked Wright about Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, who has been punished by the NCAA due to academic conduct and impermissible benefits, among other infractions, found within his program. As a result, Syracuse, which was put on probation, will lose 12 scholarships and must vacate 108 wins. Boeheim, meanwhile, will be suspended for the first nine ACC games of the 2015-16 season.

Tierney doesn’t believe the penalties are as harsh as some make them out to be, and he believes Syracuse will still compete at a very high level.

“I think you’re right,” Wright said. “I think they’ll still be very successful. They’ve got great tradition, a tremendous fan base. Jim Boeheim is one of the smartest guys I know in this business. I think he’s got the ability to focus on coaching and figure out a way to keep them at a high level. I know they have great recruits coming in.

“I got to say: This is has been really difficult for me just to get my head around,” Wright continued. “Jim was a big part of my career. He was always helpful to me. He helped me get into USA Basketball. I’ve seen all of the positive things that he’s done in college basketball – and with USA Basketball. He’s helped so many coaches. I’ve seen him make decisions where it might be detrimental to Syracuse in the short term, but it’s good for the Big East – or it might be detrimental for Syracuse, but it’s good for USA Basketball. I’ve seen him make those decisions.

“And all of these things now to come out – I’ve never seen any of that. So it’s really been a difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. I’m kind of struggling with it right now, and I hope what you say is true for him. I hope they can handle this and continue to be (the) great program they are.”

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