Coming off a 20-14 record last season which included a trip to the NCAA Tournament, the Villanova Wildcats are back and ready to make even more noise this season in the new Big East Conference. Out go the likes of Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, and Syracuse; in comes Butler, Creighton, and Xavier to the revamped 10-team conference. With four starters returning from last year's squad, the expectations to succeed are high on the Main Line this season. The Wildcats have been picked to finish fourth in the preseason rankings of the Big East Conference and are expected by most to return to the NCAA Tournament. Even more excitingly, the rumblings of a return to the vintage four-guard lineup for the Wildcats could serve as a matchup nightmare for opponents. Let's take a look at the important keys and storylines that will drive this season for the Villanova Wildcats.
2012-2013 Record: 20-14, lost in NCAA Second Round to North Carolina 79-71. Finished seventh in Big East Conference
Head Coach: Jay Wright (13th season)
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG Ryan Arcidiacono (Sophomore)
SG Darrun Hilliard (Junior)
SG/SF James Bell (Senior)
PF JayVaughn Pinkston (Redshirt Junior)
C Daniel Ochefu (Sophomore)
Other Key Returner: G Tony Chennault
Notable Departures: C Mouphtaou Yarou, F Maurice Sutton, G Ashraf Yacoubou
1. Welcome Diaper Dandies- The 'Cats have brought in one of the top recruiting classes in the nation for the '13-14 season. Starting with Josh Hart, the 6-5 swingman out of Silver Spring, Md. brings a versatile game to the floor. Due to his incredible athleticism, Hart has the ability to create his own shot and find multiple ways to score on the offensive end. Without a question he will be looked towards immediately as a key offensive asset off the bench. What makes Hart even more valuable is his ability to rebound the basketball so well for his position, as he averaged 13 rebounds per game in his senior year of high school to go along with his 24 points per game average. As for his fellow Beltway mate, the 6-6 Kris Jenkins out of Upper Marlboro, Md. was named Washington D.C. Player of the Year by the Washington Post in his senior year. Jenkins also averaged a double-double in his final year of high school ball with 18 points and 10 rebounds per game, so he will bring many important facets of his game to the court for Villanova. Like Hart, Jenkins is extremely talented on the offensive end. Jenkins is notorious for his soft and sweet three-point shot, as well as his ability to make plays for both himself and his teammates. Jenkins will also be a valuable piece off the bench for Coach Wright. As for the 6-8 Darryl Reynolds, he might as well take the R-5 SEPTA train to home games as he played his high school ball around the block at Lower Merion High School, the same high school a man by the name of Kobe Bryant played at. Reynolds will immediately be called upon to help Daniel Ochefu out in the post with defensive and rebounding responsibilities. In his senior year of high school, Reynolds averaged 8 rebounds and 4 blocks per game. It is clear that he will be an important part of the 'Cats gameplan on the defensive end and will be a key if the 'Cats want to contend for the Big East title and go deep in March. It will be fun to see how the new kids on the block develop into integral parts of this Wildcats squad.
2. The Leadership of Arch- This will be one of the more fun storylines to watch as the season progresses. Coming off a tremendous freshman season in which he was named to the Big East All-Freshman team, the 6-3 "Arch" was named a captain on this year's squad. Arch averaged just under 12 points per game for the 'Cats in his inaugural season, as well as leading the team in assists with 3.5 per game. Of course, Arch's most famous moment as a Wildcat came on January 26 last year when he sunk the three pointer and shot of the season that sent Villanova onwards to an upset victory at home over Syracuse. In his sophomore campaign this year, Arcidiacono will need to raise his game to a whole new level and step up as the leader of this squad. From the looks of it early on this season during practices and from what Coach Wright has being saying, it sounds like Arcidiacono is ready for the challenge. What comes with being a leader means making smart decisions and being responsible on the floor. As good as Arch was last year for the Wildcats, he went through some pretty ugly slumps to watch as a fan. Arch often tried shooting himself out of these slumps, only to make it even worse for himself and the team. He will need to be a smart leader on the floor this season if the 'Cats want to reach their full potential. That means not trying to do too much when he does not need to, such as taking bad shots and making costly turnovers. Arch does not need to be the one and only scorer on this team, as he has a plethora of offensive support on the floor with him. Arch must focus upon running the offense and getting the ball to his teammates before necessarily looking for his own shot. Being a leader means realizing one's strengths and weaknesses, and this is what Arcidiacono must do for Villanova. I expect to see a much improved and more mature Arcidiacono this season, and I believe that this will ultimately make the Wildcats a better team. I am excited to see Arch further grow as both a player and leader as the season goes along, and this will be an essential piece to Villanova's ultimate success this season.
3. Ennis to the Rescue- After transferring from Rice and sitting out last season as a redshirt due to transfer protocol, guard Dylan Ennis is ready to make a name for himself in the Nova Nation. Ennis will most likely be looked at as the sixth man off the bench for the 'Cats, but he will not serve in that role for another month due to his broken hand he suffered in practice two weeks ago. Villanova should be fine without him for the first four games, but it would be nice to have him back before the team heads to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, a tournament in which the 'Cats will face teams like USC and Kansas. The 6-2 guard out of Canada will serve primarily as an offensive connoisseur for Villanova, as he has a unique ability to efficiently score, rebound, and dish the ball to his teammates. In his lone season at Rice, Ennis made the Conference USA All-Freshman team and averaged 8.5 points and 4.3 rebounds. More notably, Ennis broke the school freshman record for most assists in a season when he posted 144 as a rookie. Once Ennis is fully healthy and ready to go, he will be an extremely vital part to the Wildcats' success this season. If Ennis can be an effective scorer and playmaker off the bench, the 'Cats will have plenty of offense to go around on this squad.
4. Who will be the go-to scorer?- This is a very important question which must be answered. Because the Wildcats have many viable offensive options, there could be a variety of answers. Within the starting lineup, the 'Cats have four excellent scoring options (sorry Dan). Arch and James Bell are terrific 3-point shooters, even though both will be counted on for other responsibilities on the floor besides scoring. Both players have shown they can make big shots down the stretch, so I would not be shocked if Coach Wright initially sticks with those two as the guys to make a shot with the game on the line. However, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston, last year's leading scorer with 13.3 points per game, are the two more consistent scorers on the squad. Along with rebounding the basketball and playing strong defense on the post, Pinkston will be called upon to be the Wildcats' go-to offensive weapon on the post. Additionally, Pinkston's versatility on the offensive end allows him to come outside of the paint and knock down outside shots. As for the swingman Hilliard, who averaged 11.4 points per game as a sophomore, he had a coming out party in Big East play last season for the 'Cats and will look to capitalize upon that this season. Hilliard's ability to move without the basketball and serve as another ball-handler to Arch will help the Wildcats spread the floor on the offensive end. Along with his ability to drive the lane, Hilliard has a beautiful three-point shot that will come in handy for the 'Cats. Do not fear Wildcat fans; we have got ourselves plenty of offensive juggernauts on this squad.
5. Time for Mr. Ochefu to Step Up- With the departure of big man Mouphtaou Yarou, the time for Daniel Ochefu to answer the bell has come. The 6-11 Ochefu averaged 4 rebounds per game last season in which he shared the No.4 spot in the starting lineup with JVP. Clearly, that number needs to go way up if the 'Cats want to be serious contenders. Ochefu will be tasked with the job of defending the paint against opposing players and controlling both the offensive and defensive glass against other big men. Ochefu needs to be a beast down low this year and claim it as his territory. A more-physical and improved Ochefu is key if the 'Cats want to have a chance against their physical Big East opponents, most notably Georgetown. If Ochefu and the 'Cats cannot rebound and defend the paint, conference play could go very poorly. The Wildcats' ability to rebound and defend the paint could be the difference between a deep run in the NCAA Tournament and missing out on all the fun. However, I am optimistic that we will see an improved Ochefu this season for Villanova. The loss of Yarou seems to be the biggest fear of most fans heading into the season, and it will be Ochefu's job to quell those fears over the course of the season.
Best-case Scenario: Arcidiacono develops into the leader he has been called upon to do, Ochefu steps up as a solid paint defender and rebounder for the 'Cats, Bell furthermore becomes an elite perimeter defender in his final season, Hilliard elevates his game to another level after his tremendous sophomore campaign, the freshmen live up to the big expectations, and Ennis becomes the offensive spark-plug off the bench for Nova. The team remains healthy for the season and the 'Cats contend for the Big East Championship, followed by a long dance deep into March.
Worst-case Scenario: Ochefu fails to fully replace the loss of Yarou in the middle, leading to the 'Cats being mauled on the boards by their Big East foes. Ennis is unable to recover fully from the broken hand, the freshmen turn out to be diaper duds, Arch and Hilliard are unable to build upon their terrific seasons last year, and the 'Cats are consistently inconsistent throughout conference play. Turnovers plague the squad, as they falter in the Big East Championship and find themselves locked out of the Big Dance in 2014. Let's hope this doesn't happen.
Predicted record: 23-8 (12-6 Big East record). I think this is a pretty realistic prediction, but take note that this does not include Big East Championship or NCAA Tournament games.
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2013-2014 Villanova Basketball: Meet the Cats (via NovaAthletics)
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