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Life after Maalik

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After April 10th, Villanova may have to face the stark reality of life without Maalik Wayns on the basketball court. As a junior, Wayns led the team in both points and assists this season. It is tough to replace a player who scored 1,191 points in three seasons, but does it spell doom for the 2012-13 season?

Teams driven by a singular star player are rarely powers in college basketball. Even the 2011 national champion UConn team eventually had significant contributions from players beyond their star, Kemba Walker.

If Wayns does not return, Ty Johnson is the most-likely starter at point guard for Villanova. Ryan Arcidiacono may have a chance to push his way into the starting role, but Johnson has a season in the program already and that is a big advantage in college. The starting line-up likely would still include Dominic Cheek, JayVaughn Pinkston and Mouphtaou Yarou as well, with the other players providing valuable depth.

Wayns was responsible for 22.51% of Villanova's 1,266 points scored this season. On a per-game basis, that number becomes 24.8% and if you only count the minutes that Wayns played, it becomes 28.2%. That is a lot of scoring to lose, but with every other scholarship player returning to the team next season, it only seems reasonable that the Wildcats will be able to replace the production.

JayVaughn Pinkston, for example, averaged under 10 points per game for the season, but his biggest games came after the new year. In 19 games starting with a New Years Day game at Marquette, Pinkston averaged 12.2 points per game, and if you eliminate the games after his ankle injury, he averaged 14.3 points in 14 games after January 1.

So while our projected starting line-up for 2012-13 accounted for just 55.8% of Villanova's scoring this season, it isn't a huge leap to think that those scoring numbers could increase for some young players next season.

One area of concern may be Ty Johnson. He scored just 3.3 points per game and dished out an average of 2 assists and 1.8 turnovers in 17.7 minutes per game. He accounted for 16.5% of the Wildcats' assists this season (Wayns dished out 33.8% of the team's 394 assists). Johnson's role wasn't to be a scorer for the Wildcats.

He showed some flashes of ability, however, when forced into the role of starting point guard while Wayns' knee sidelined him near the end of the season. In two overtime games at the Wells Fargo Center over President's Day weekend, Johnson scored 8 points and 14 points, respectively, and dished out 7 assists and 6 assists.

In fact, Dominic Cheek seemed to perform better in Wayns' absence as well. He struggled like the rest of the team in their first game sans-Wayns, at USF, but in the next three, against Notre Dame, Connecticut and Georgetown, Cheek scored 19, 23 and 19 points, respectively. He also had some of his strongest 3-point shooting performances of the season in that stretch, shooting 45.5%, 69.2% and 46.2% in the three games.

One bigger problem is that the Wildcats developed a tendency to turn the ball over and Wayns had the team's best assist-to-turnover rate at 1.53. Ty Johnson was third on the team at 1.12 and only three players recored a positive ratio in that department. Wayns had, by far, the best assist rate on the team (assists divided by the field goals made by the player’s teammates while he is on the court) at 32.5, and Ty Johnson clocked in at 21.7 for a clear second-place.

Johnson also turned the ball over on 35.8% of his possessions, by far the worst on the team.

Coaches tend to tolerate these sort of mistakes when it comes to freshmen, so long as they play with a certain level of confidence and make up for their errors on defense or with scoring. Jay Wright will not be able to allow a guy like Pinkston to turn the ball over 7 times in a game next year, like he did against Rutgers in the Big East tournament.

There are a lot of questions over whether the Wildcats will or can improve next season. Dominic Cheek needs a consistent offensive scheme that will not just throw him the ball, but create shots for him, if he is going to become a threat from the perimeter. Pinkston needs to improve his decision-making on the court and continue to work on conditioning. Yarou needs to work on receiving inlet passes with the guards and become more comfortable with his low-post moves.

What doesn't necessarily have to happen, is for Ty Johnson to become Maalik Wayns.

Wayns viewed himself as a pass-first guy at heart, but at Villanova he was always a scorer. Johnson doesn't need to become a scorer if his teammates can step up and share that load. He will have to do better than 3 points per game, most likely, but does he need to explode for 39? It might be better for Villanova if he didn't.

Villanova had five players shoot more than 30% from beyond the arc, though you have to discount Markus Kennedy's 1-of-2 season or Yarou's perfect 1-for-1 (from NBA-range, no less). Of the other three, JayVaughn Pinkston finished strongest with 36.6% from deep, but he only launched 41 of them — a mere 6.6% of the Wildcat's 622 attempts this season.

James Bell took 17.36% of the Wildcats' 3-point attempts and made 36.1% of his, but he averaged just 7 points per game and was more often a non-entity in the offense than a real factor.

In 2012-13, the Wildcats need to get players like Bell more involved in the offense as well as finding ways to manufacture shots for other players. If they can do that, Johnson won't need to score 18 points per game for the Wildcats to survive. If they can't, prepare for more disappointment.

Johnson may even be an upgrade defensively. He has a big wingspan at the point and enough athleticism to stay in front of his opponent. Mo Sutton's length also helped improve the Villanova defense as the season progressed, and the Wildcats will need to become a better defensive squad next year. They ranked just 118th in the nation in defensive efficiency and 13th in the Big East.

To that end, Johnson was better than Wayns at generating turnovers. Wayns produced a 1.7% steal percentage, but Johnson's was 2.0%, tied with Cheek for second-best on the team, right behind Kennedy at 2.2%. Johnson played about half of the minutes that Wayns did this season and yet accounted for 10.7% of the team's steals, compared to 15.7% for Wayns. This season, the 'Cats generally struggled to cause opponents to turn over the ball, which can lead to a lot of easy offensive opportunities.

The bottom line?

If Villanova's plan for life after Maalik Wayns is to ask Ty Johnson to become Maalik Wayns, prepare for more growing pains. Johnson is still young and might not be ready to become a lead scorer next season.

If the plan is to find a way to help Johnson lean on and rely on his teammates, things could be better next year. Johnson has the potential to become a good point guard in the Big East (Jay Wright has tremendous confidence in the freshman), but it will be Cheek, Yarou, and Pinkston who will need to lead the team on the scoreboard. That means, perhaps, a fundamental change to the way that that Villanova basketball plays — at least on offense.

If Johnson can't or doesn't develop in the way Villanova needs him to (or god-forbid, suffers another injury), Ryan Arcidiacono will be thrown to the wolves as a freshman to run the point. He is a very talented player who can pass, shoot and take an opponent off-the-dribble, but scouts seem to think he is lacking some maturity and commitment on defense. Then again, the last time Villanova started a freshman point guard from the beginning of a season, it ended with 22 wins and a first-round NCAA loss to Kentucky.

If Wayns keeps his name in the NBA draft, a possibility that seems more likely than not, the 2012-13 season is not instantly-lost. The Wildcats need to find some self-awareness, realize who they are, and play to the strengths of the players they have, not the players they wish they had.