While we all thought Villanova was capable of winning the 2011 76 Classic, it wasn't meant to be. Following the semifinal loss to Saint Louis, there was one rogue fan who went off in the comments about how it didn't look like Jay Wright was the right man for the job.
A little bit of an outlier case and a definite overreaction, but even some of the tweets I saw were particularly negative about this year's team. There were not any Fire Jay Wright calls after the even more depressing loss to Santa Clara, just fans talking about how we need to be ready for a different type of year than we're used to. I count myself in that bunch.
Maybe we've been spoiled by all the recent success that the program has had (even if the past couple of seasons ended poorly). But if this past weekend showed me anything, it's that it could be worse. It could be much, much worse. And yes, I'd rather be in their shoes than ours, but it goes to show that ANYONE can lose on any given night to anybody.
I'm far from cliff-jumping and I've still got a very positive outlook for this season. After The Jump I'll tell you why.
Maalik Wayns appears to be the only player we can consistently count on to show up every night (even though he had a dud against Santa Clara). Mouphtaou Yarou is getting there, but he still only appears truly confident when he knows he has the advantage. How he'll do in the Big East where he'll face the likes of Yancy Gates, Alex Oriakhi and Andre Drummond remains to be seen. But his play has been encouraging.
Dominic Cheek took the 76 Classic off on the offensive end anyways, and it's clear that for this team to succeed he needs to be a double-digit scorer most nights. We knows he's capable of it. He just needs to keep his confidence up (one of reasons I won't condemn him for a 2-9 shooting night) and work through this slump he's in.
James Bell emerged as a legitimate scoring option during the tournament. He looks like the best 3-point shooter on the team right now and is a relentless presence on the boards, whether he's grabbing them or not, he's usually making things interesting.
JayVaughn Pinkston is slowly coming along. When his shots start falling (and they will) we're going to love his brand of basketball. Darrun Hilliard appears capable of knocking down the outside shot when left unmarked.
The real unknown is Markus Kennedy. He had an up and down tournament. He rebounds well and he developed a nice 1-2 punch with Mouph in the final game. His spin move for the lay-in is evidence that the offensive talent is there. It just needs to be refined.
Maalik Wayns' performances against Evan Roquemore and Kwamain Mitchell show that's he's capable of limiting elite players. Dominic Cheek and James Bell were both predictably very strong in the half-court sets and Mouph never was really beaten consistently inside. Past that though, there are clear problems.
The 3-point defense is atrocious yes - as is the lack of awareness to know that Saint Louis and Santa Clara live by the 3. But Villanova isn't going to see that week-in and week-out in the Big East. They're style of tough man-to-man defense will suit them well in the Big East, when teams tend to grind out offensive possessions and look to work it inside. They're well-built to equip with that. This is a BIG team, with several players capable of guarding multiple positions.
Plus, teams aren't going to be hitting double-digit 3's against us every night. That 2-game stretch was more of an aberration than anything. Not only were they hitting 3's in high volumes, they were efficient about it as well. It's okay if somebody hits 10 30's while taking 30 of them. It's worse when they hit 10 while only taking 20.
This isn't a top-tier Big East team by any stretch - so we do need to prepare ourselves for a fight all season long. No game will be easy (DePaul looks like a decent fight this year!). Clearly this team has some growing pains ahead of them. But they are very talented, and most importantly, players seem to know their roles.
Have you dreaded Maurice Sutton entering the game this year? No, because he's played within himself. The freshman will only get better with more experience, and guys like Kennedy, Pinkston and Hilliard will become regular contributors.
I'm not ready to write off this season and the possibility of making the NCAA Tournament. I'm just not going to kid myself either. I realize this will be a long, stressful season to be a Wildcats fan. But it will also be fun to watch a young team grow up.