The Villanova Wildcats will officially kick-off their 2011-2012 season tomorrow night vs. the Monmouth Hawks. Last season, Villanova hit the road and leveled Monmouth by 40, 76-36 (highlights of last year's game are here). Conventional wisdom would suggest a similar outcome this year, as one team is still clearly better than the other on talent alone.
However, the common theme between both of these teams is the amount of new faces that will step onto the court. Villanova has 5 new players that could potentially see playing time in the inaugural game of the season, while Monmouth will also throw out some new faces on the court, along with a new coach on the sidelines.
Join me after The Jump for more.
Longtime coach Dave Holloway was fired at the end of last season after finishing with a 9-21 record, including a 5-13 slate in the NEC. King Rice (yes, that's his name) is the man who will be at the helm of the Hawks ship this year. Rice most recently was an assistant coach at Vanderbilt, and was the coach of the Bahamas national team from 2001-2004. Here's Vandy Coach Kevin Stallings on what Rice brings:
"He brought a tremendous amount of energy, liveliness, hard work, and dedication to his position here at Vanderbilt, and I believe those attributes will make him a very successful head coach at Monmouth."
As VUHoops pointed out, Rice has set out to change the attitude at Monmouth, inserting 5 a.m. practices in an effort to change the culture around the program. Rice won't be the only new face in the Monmouth team this season, however.
Senior guards Will Campbell and Gary Cox return to the fold after missing extended parts of last season on suspension for academic reasons. Joining them in the backcourt is Jesse Steele, who finished last season third on the team in scoring at 8.9 ppg despite coming off the bench frequently.
Even better news for Rice is that he gets his top two players back in the fold from last season. Forwards Mike Myers Keitt and Ed Waite averaged 10.1 and 9.2 ppg, respectively.
Though Monmouth sports a 7-footer in Phil Wait, 'Nova should have a significant size advantage with Mouphtaou Yarou, Markus Kennedy, and potentially Maurice Sutton patrolling the paint. Yarou found loads of success vs. them last season, putting up 14 points, and there is no reason to think he won't do the same again.
On the perimeter, nobody on the court will be good enough to slow Maalik Wayns down, so it really comes down to Wayns being efficient and taking the opportunity that presents itself instead of forcing the issue. This should be a game where both Dominic Cheek and James Bell will get a chance to showcase their skills on the wings since Wayns will be the primary focus of the Monmouth D.
Based on the exhibition win over NYIT, look for Ty Johson and Achraf Yacoubou to see extended minutes in relief of the starters while Darrun Hilliard will factor in as well.
What it really comes down to though, is that Villanova basketball is finally back and we'll get a first-hand look at how this year's team works together.
Prediction: Villanova wins 83-52
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