Minutes varied by player throughout the European trip, but the starting lineup was rather constant. In all three games, the 'Cats opened the first period with the same five players on the court: Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek, James Bell, Isaiah Armwood and Mouph Yarou. Now, Armwood has left school to return home to Baltimore and contemplate where he will finish his college career.
So where does that put Villanova?
Prior to the trip to Europe, Jay Wright had commented that his "top-6" guys were the five starters he used in Amsterdam and JayVaughn Pinkston. He has also stated a belief that JayVaughn can play any position from 1 through 5. We can question whether that last suggestion is actually true -- I for one don't want to see Pinkston defending a 7-foot center -- but it stands to reason that Jay Wright believes in his redshirt freshman.
In a perfect world, Pinkston would be continuing to work on his perimeter game and ball-handling to progress along the way to becoming an NBA guard. The world is imperfect, however, and Jay Wright's options are limited. Pinkston knows how to play power forward and has the body and athleticism that should allow him to do so (at least as well as Randy Foye and Allan Ray did, and hopefully better).
If Jay isn't happy with Pinkston's ability to match-up with some of the bigger power forwards out there, he has two other options: he can use Maurice Sutton in that role as he did a few times last season, or he can turn to the freshman, Markus Kennedy. Both have their pro's and con's. Sutton is a tall shot-blocker who has made a few big plays in a career where he has otherwise struggled to handle bulkier players. Kennedy is a bulky center who is capable of playing power forward and is known for his passing ability in the post.
Kennedy will also back-up Yarou this season, and it is perhaps unlikely that he will do that and play significant minutes at the 4. We also don't quite know how he will adjust to the speed of the game in the Big East, and we won't get an answer to that until January.
So it appears, JayVaughn, that it is your time to shine.
Ty Johnson or Darrun Hilliard could both easily serve as the "sixth man" coming off the bench now that Pinkston is likely moving into the starting line-up. Kennedy and Sutton will have to provide some solid minutes to spell the front line. Ash Yacoubou will also be looking to find his place in the mix for the 'Cats this season.
The loss of Isaiah Armwood is a loss of depth, but how much? Will the 'Cats be able to play an uptempo game without him? Will Jay Wright, worried about tired legs, again ask his point guard to run the "burn"?
The Burn offense is the worst possible outcome of this loss, but with 10 scholarship players on the roster, that might not be necessary. Jay Wright used the Burn last season, partially because the combination of injuries (Bell) and suspensions (Pinkston) left him with a very short bench. In 2010-11, the 'Cats had what was essentially a 7-man rotation in most games, with James Bell's return allowing them to go a little bit deeper. Bell had some strong performances against the New Jersey Big East entries, but never really earned more than a few minutes here and there otherwise -- for the most part, Jay Wright stuck with his starters, and slowed them down.
A quick look at the box scores suggests that the Burn is not a foregone conclusion this season, however. As last season went along, it seems as if the bench became artificially shorter as Jay Wright became more and more comfortable with using certain sets of starters. While Mo Sutton averaged 10+ minutes per game over the season, he broke into double-digit minuted in very few games late in the year. Effectively, the 'Cats were keeping the starters in for more and more of the games -- and slowing the pace down to compensate.
Will the same happen this season? For the sake of hoops-viewing eyeballs, easily offended by the ugliness of the Burn, we should hope not.
We will hopefully answer these questions sooner rather than later. Make no mistake, however, the loss of an experienced and athletic player like Isaiah Armwood is not to this program's benefit. Jay Wright will re-shuffle and hopefully it will all work out.
- Johnson - Guard
- Kennedy - Forward/Center
- Hilliard - Guard
- Sutton - Forward
- Yacoubou - Guard
- Ouano - Guard
- McMahon - Guard
UPDATE (1:01pm): Jeff Goodman, who reportedly has a Bat-Phone to Jay Wright's office, wrote today, "Don't be surprised to see James Bell get a bulk of his minutes at the power forward spot." Goodman's article suggests that it is based on conversation with Jay Wright, but the Bell news didn't come with a quote -- so we may have to wait and see.
While we expected to see the sophomore play small forward this season for the 'Cats as well as guard, but according to Villanova basketball SID, Mike Sheridan, Bell did spend some time at the 4 in Europe. That said, it would seem to me that Pinkston's 260-pound frame is better suited to handling life in the paint.