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If You Read Only One Preaseaon 'Nova Article, Read This One

Scottie ReynoldsLuke Winn of posted a truly outstanding and substantive feature on the Cats. There is a lot of insight here that I have not read elsewhere, including observations (not great) about the secret scrimmage against George Washington on Halloween. I highly recommend reading the entire article, but if you want an abbreviated version, here's some of the many highlights:

There are fans who believe a national title is within reach. Just how realistic are those hopes? At Tuesday's practice I saw a team that will have to rely on plenty of inexperienced pieces after its excellent backcourt core of Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Reggie Redding (who's suspended until mid-December). Four members of its rotation -- sleeper freshman big man Mouphtaou Yarou, McDonald's All-Americans Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, and Duke transfer Taylor King -- have never played a Big East game, and junior forward Antonio Pena won't seamlessly fill the hole that departed overachiever Dante Cunningham played in the post, leading the team in points, rebounds and possessions used.

That inexperience showed in a closed scrimmage against George Washington last week, in which the Colonials -- who were picked to finish 13th (out of 14) in the Atlantic-10 preseason poll -- beat the Wildcats in two of three 20-minute periods. Wright said his team was "sloppy" and lacked aggressiveness in its private debut.

I don't expect Villanova to look even like a Big East title team in November and December. But I did see enough positives to think that by NCAA tournament time, they'll be very dangerous once again. Yarou, has a surprising amount of polish to his game, and could develop into the best big man Wright's ever had; Wayns looked confident enough to play quality minutes as Fisher's backup at the point; King and Cheek's long-range shooting ability mean Stokes (who shot 41.8 percent last season) is no longer their lone, legit three-point threat on the wing.

And -- most important of all -- the Wildcats have a starting backcourt of all seasoned upperclassmen, something that four of the five teams earning first-place votes in the Associated Press preseason poll (Kansas, Kentucky, Texas and North Carolina) cannot claim. Reynolds and 'Nova should be in Indianapolis in April, and once they're there, whom would you bet on -- some blue-chip freshman, or a guy who was already the star of last year's One Shining Moment montage?

"Heart and Soul: Reynolds.Wright hopes this is the year Fisher steps up as an aggressive starting point guard, but no matter what happens, this is still Reynolds' team. He mentored Fisher for the past two seasons, and has taken a big role in bringing their stellar recruiting class up to speed. Wright said that when he called back to the office during one recruiting trip in September, he was told that Reynolds had a trio of freshmen -- Cheek, Wayns and Armwood -- in the video room, teaching them defensive schemes."

"Most Improved: Stokes. His big offensive jump came last season, when he improved on his freshman three-point clip by 12.2 percent and finished with a 115.3 efficiency rating -- the best on the team. Now, Wright is excited about the prospect of Stokes finally being a consistent defensive presence, as an imposing beast (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) on the perimeter. "We thought we could win games last year by putting Reggie Redding on teams' go-to guys," says Wright, "but this year we feel like we can win by putting Stokes on their go-to guys."

"X-Factor: Yarou. Don't fall into the trap of thinking he'll look like the Big East's last African star, UConn's Hasheem Thabeet, did as a freshman. Yarou is way ahead of that, skill-wise, which is a good thing, because at 6-10 and 250 pounds, he's the only true big guy Villanova has. The question is how well he he'll adjust to the speed at which the Wildcats' guards like to play. If he's a passable rebounder/defender in the post as a freshman, they'll contend in the Big East; if he's a stellar rebounder/defender and a double-digit scorer, they'll be in the thick of the national-title race."

"Glue Guy: Redding. I could only witness his gluey effect on the scout team, because he's out until December -- and stripped of his senior-year captaincy -- as a result of being busted with a small amount of marijuana over the summer. He's really the perfect complement to Reynolds and Fisher, a guy who's content to play D and facilitate the offense rather than score. "He's been killing [the starters] in practice," Wright says of Redding. "No matter who we put on the white [scout] team with him, he glues them together."

"Lost in the Shuffle: Armwood. He's a four-star prospect just like Cheek and Wayns, but the 6-7 Armwood weighs just 205 pounds, and I get the sense that he might need at least a year before he's ready to play on the interior in the Big East. He's athletic enough to play on the wing, but that's unfortunately a crowded position: King (who'll either start as a perimeter four or be a sixth man), Stokes, Redding and Cheek are all ahead of Armwood in that part of the rotation."

"Bottom Line: This team needs to do some growing, but could eventually be as good as any of the national title contenders -- other than Kansas. Even Reynolds has room to refine his game: His heroics overshadowed the fact that he shot 45.4 percent from inside the arc as a junior -- not a great number -- and was only the fifth-most efficient offensive player on his team. I suspect that the presence of added weapons on the outside (as well as Yarou commanding defenders inside) will make Reynolds' percentages in the paint increase over the course of the season. When it comes to crunch time, he's already capable of making those stats seem irrelevant."