Midterms week has reared its head on Villanova’s Campus. Naturally then for a student like myself it’s time to sit down, crack open the books and write about Villanova Basketball. It dawned on me today that we’ll be reading post-game wrap-ups about the season opener against Lafayette in less than a month and, feel free to call me a Boss Hog disciple, I’ve got some pretty high expectations for the team this year.
Compared to past seasons, this year’s team is not facing an enormous amount of turnover on the roster. Yes, the departures of Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton will undoubtedly be felt on the frontline. Yes, we’ve seen two key cogs in the coaching staff head for various shades of greener pastures. But despite these changes, much of the players we will see don the Blue and White will be familiar. Villanova is returning over 76% of its minutes from last year and 78% of its scoring. Therefore, much of the key components that the Cats will be utilizing this year will be the same; players will not be charged with learning and adjusting to a new defensive scheme and offensive roles will most likely stay consistent with a few exceptions.
With this in mind, here are my ten hopes for the new season. Some of these changes are simple and were hopefully worked on over the summer while other’s take on the more cerebral aspects of the game. Keep in mind that these are merely the musings of a fan and, as a result, are sometimes not supported by statistical evidence but rather a basic eye-test from watching the game. As a team already proven capable of reaching the NCAA tournament, a few tweaks here and there might be all that is needed to turn this into a special team.
#1 Dylan Ennis is Who We Thought He Was
References to Dennis Green's postgame speech aside, much noise has been made regarding the redshirt Sophomore. After setting the Conference USA record for assists as a freshman, Ennis transferred to Villanova supposedly to take the lead position in Jay’s guard driven lineup. Nova fans first saw him bring down the house at Hoops Mania last year and, predictably, anticipation ran wild. Coach Wright even went as far as saying that "Nova’s best player might not even be on the court during games this year." Well, now that’s some darn high praise considering the team on the court boasted a National Player of the week, a Third Team All-Big East award winner, and the runner up to the conference’s Rookie of the year award. Ennis stands at prototypical guard height and carries great strength. Clearly, the Canadian born player is an athlete. As he transitions into Villanova’s system, it has been speculated that he will take on the lead guard duties while Arch shifts to the 2 spot on offense. With his explosive athleticism and natural-point guard gifts, this could be just what the oft-stagnant Villanova offense ordered. Ennis does not have to provide 16 ppg and 7 apg for his presence to be felt; merely his decision making, driving, and ball handling will provide an immediate upgrade for the offense.
#2 Pinkston Develops His Midrange Game
JayVaughn Pinkston is simply a tank. Listed as 6’7", 240 pounds, Pinkston is able to punish defenders with deceptive quickness and brute strength and get to the rim at will. Last year, we saw Pinkston reel in his aggressiveness as Coach Wright asked him to look for the pass more often. For the most part, it worked. Now, the next facet of his game must be added to help contribute to what is hopefully his breakout campaign—his midrange game. With his ability to blow by slower defenders and muscle past smaller foes, Pinkston often finds himself with space between himself and the waiting rim-protector. With the addition of a floater or 12 foot pull-up, JayVaughn will be able to increase his offensive versatility while avoiding the potential for offensive charges.
#3 Inbounds Inbounds Inbounds
We all know it. We all hate it. Jay Wright simply refuses to draw any sort of productive inbounds play on a consistent basis. However, last year Nova fans began to see a slight reduction in this much-maligned coaching flaw. Multiple plays were run to try and get James Bell an alley-oop of the initial pass and, at least a couple of times, this worked. Like I said before, I’m just a fan and I don’t have any specific plays to email Jay. Still, Villanova offers a variety of offensive threats including spot up shooters like Arch, Bell and Jenkins, athletes like Hart and Jayvaughn, and slashers like Hilliard and Hart. There must be some way to grab some easy points from the various combinations of players he can use.
#4 Arcidiacono Stays in Front of his Man
Ryan Arcidiacono is no doubt a smart defender. But too many times last year we saw him get burned by quicker players. The second game against Syracuse comes to mind. Late in the game, Arch would put himself right in Michael Carter Williams' chest, leaving him barely any room to breathe. Unfortunately, he was blown by on multiple occasions and the defense suffered because of it. With the assumed two-guard lineup of Ennis and Arch ready to make its debut, I would advise to try putting Arch on their 2 guard and Ennis on the faster point guard. This will allow Arch to utilize his defensive tenacity while matching the bigger player’s quickness. A strategy like this would hopefully cut down on open drives to the basket and the resulting open spot-up threes.
#5 Hilliard and Bell Becoming More Consistent
Another topic all-too familiar within the Villanova faithful—Darrun Hilliard’s and James Bell’s tendency to disappear at times (and sometimes even halves) of games. While I don’t have the statistic to back it up, a great majority of Bell’s points game within the second half. Hilliard and Bell, both upperclassman, must begin to assert themselves offensively this year. The presence of consistent threats off the wings will open up the offense for the guards to drive and the bigs to operate down low.
#6 Chennault Does What He Did Last Year….Only Better
Looking at Tony Chennault’s stat line from last year will certainly not blow you away: 3.6 ppg, 1.8 rpg, about a steal per game and an assist to turnover ratio of a little over one. Tony is able to guard decently, handle decently, drive decently, and shoot a little worse than decently. The thing is, we don’t need him to be a world beater. Villanova needs Chennault to handle point guard duties while the lead guards rest, facilitate the offense, and provide aggressive defense. Hopefully, with another offseason learning Jay system and refining his game, Tony can do just that.
#7 Jay Adjusts His Gameplan
Jay Wright is a notoriously stubborn coach. Generally, if it’s broke, he ain’t gonna fix it. However, last year’s game against Georgetown caught my eye. The Hoyas and John Thompson III typically have the Cat’s number. But not last year. The third upset of the year against a top-five team was highlighted by a suffocating defense. Jay Wright’s defensive plan was to enact almost a box-and-one with Bell guarding eventual third overall pick in the NBA Draft Otto Porter. Thompson’s Princeton offense was unable to take effect as Wright seemingly instructed his players to watch the backdoor cuts; the results were wonderful to see. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a Villanova defense executed to such perfection like I did against Georgetown. Wright clearly developed a strategy and communicated it to his players. It is gameplans and efforts like these that will hopefully become a more frequent occurrence during the upcoming season.
#8 Ochefu Develops a Right-Handed Hook Shot
As a student that frequently sees him around campus, I can confidently say that Daniel Ochefu is very, very tall. Listed at 6'11", Ochefu stands like a tower in the middle of the Villanova offense. On multiple occasions last year, Ochefu was fed the ball in ideal position on the right block. He would take his dribble, move towards the basket, turn his shoulder, release high and with a soft touch, and clank it off the rim. Everything about his process was solid except for the final result. My hope for Ochefu is that, in addition to shooting 57,421 free throws a day over the summer, he found a reliable hook shot he can bank on for the year. Having Ochefu as a threat that can create his own offense will be invaluable to spacing the floor and creating open looks.
#9 The Freshman are Ready
Villanova fans saw last year what could happen if Coach Wright handed the keys of the offense to a freshman. While there certainly won’t be as drastic of an influence like Arch had last year, the Wildcat freshman should be able to contribute by the start of conference play. Kris Jenkins, according to multiple sources, will provide a knock-down shooter off the wing. Josh Hart will provide defensive tenacity and versatility, along with the ability to slash toward the basket. Perhaps most importantly, Daryl Reynolds will hopefully be relied upon to provide quality defense and minutes off the bench behind Ochefu. Each freshman will, optimistically, find their niche among the team and provide sparks off the bench this year.
#10 The Big East Doesn’t Miss a Beat
Lastly, the New Big East must, must, must provide strong performances this season. Much of the success of the newly-formed conference will be predicated on its team’s ability to generate results on the court. Marquette, Creighton, Villanova, and Georgetown are all expected to contend for the conference title and make the Big Dance. However, it is the performance of the other teams that will be most interesting to watch. Will Jakarr Sampson and D’Angelo Harrison take an athletic St. John’s team to the next level? Can Coach Cooley at Providence make up for the loss of Vincent Council and continue to develop his talented young players? Will Butler maintain relevancy and consistency without Coach Stevens? These questions and more will help determine if the New Big East can preserve its national footprint.
The wonderful thing about this season is that it is filled with both known assets and mystery additions. While there are no doubt lots of other factors that could have been talked about and improved upon, these 10 musings are what hopefully can take Villanova to the next level.
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