VILLANOVA -- The way the season ended, with a historic romp through the NCAA Tournament and an astonishing last-second win over North Carolina in the championship game, it's easy to forget that a few weeks before Villanova paraded down Market Street, the Wildcats walked off the Madison Square Garden court disappointed and discouraged.
Villanova won the national title a year ago but lost in the Big East title game to Seton Hall.
Seton Hall roared out to a 37-23 lead, Villanova tied the game at 50, took its first lead at 67-64 with less than a minute left, then lost 69-67 on a game-winner by Isaiah Whitehead, who finished with 25 points (and now plays for the Brooklyn Nets).
"That game definitely was humbling," said Josh Hart, who committed a costly turnover in the final minute. "We didn't play Villanova basketball for 30 of the 40 minutes. Probably the last 10 minutes we started playing Villanova basketball and it was a different game.
"But we know that's what we have to do now. If we don't have that attention to detail and focus on the little things, we're going to have the same result."
As the Wildcats made their run through the tournament, they often looked back at that Seton Hall game as the springboard for what was to follow.
And with this year's tournament getting underway, it's certainly on their minds again.
"I would have much rather won it and be dealing with the challenge of doing it again, but the only positive of not winning it is the guys are hungry," coach Jay Wright said.
"We try to make them hungry even if they do win it, but the guys know we got beat last year. Seton Hall played better and we know we've got to go up there and play our best basketball."
Top-seeded Villanova opens play in the Big East tourney at noon Thursday at the Garden against the winner of a game Wednesday evening between 8-seed St. John's and 9-seed Georgetown.
Villanova, 28-3 and ranked No. 2 in the country, beat Georgetown by 11 and 26 points and St. John's by 13 points twice.
Last year's loss to Seton Hall was quickly forgotten by outsiders as Villanova roared through the NCAA Tournament. But the players on that team never forgot it.
"I think we were just more distraught with how we played," said Jalen Brunson, who played a career-low nine minutes against Seton Hall and failed to score for the only time in his two seasons at 'Nova.
"We didn't play Villanova basketball. Even though we lost, we were more choked up with how we didn't play Villanova basketball, and that really got to us, and that's what Coach preached.
"It's definitely going to help us. The most important thing is if we come out and play for each other and not be selfish, as long as our heads are clear and focusing on the right thing, we're going to be OK."
Villanova won the 2015 Big East title game over Xavier when current seniors Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds and Hart were sophomores. Hart came off the bench that year to win tourney MVP honors.
The Wildcats' only other Big East tournament title came in 1995 when 'Nova beat UConn.
Villanova has lost in the title game five times: in 1981, 1982, 1988, 1997 and 2016.
"Over the summer it drove us a lot," Jenkins said of the Seton Hall game. "We never forgot it.
"Losing hurts. Especially the way we did. But we learn from it, just like we learn from every game, and hopefully, we can just move forward in the right direction. I feel like we're getting better at the right time. We'll see where that takes us.
"It's a new season and it's either win or go home. It's a one-game tournament from here on out. If you don't take care of business, you're going to go home and watch it."
Since losing to Seton Hall, Villanova is 34-3, losing twice to Butler and once to Creighton this year.
As remarkable as last year was, Villanova actually takes a better record into the postseason this year.
"Every team is coming in saying we have a chance to win this tournament, and every team is fresh and feeling hungry about their opportunity," Wright said.
"No matter what we did in the regular season, we have to feel just as hungry and have to anticipate this opportunity just as much. Can't feel like we've accomplished anything. We have a new opportunity to accomplish something. ...
"Just because we did it last year, don't anticipate that we have a lot more games to play. We might only have [two] more games, and we have to think about it that way. There has to be an urgency and a lot of the memory of a long run last year, that's not a given. We've got to earn that."
A win Thursday will set up a game at 6:30 p.m. Friday against the winner of Seton Hall-Marquette. Butler is the 2-seed and could meet 'Nova only in the title game at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.
"Last year, after we lost, we knew that we could be beaten, so we made sure we kept that in mind every game after that," sophomore forward Mikal Bridges said.
"We think about last year, where if we didn't come out to play early we can lose to a good team, and every team in the Big East is a good team. It's just if you don't bring your A-game, no matter who you play, they can beat you. That's just how it goes when you play in the Big East."