Villanova is coming off a 29-win season and a regular season championship, they are assumed to be the big dogs of the Big East heading into what appears to be a tougher conference schedule than last year. Who plays two guard for the Wildcats? Who's going to be the better freshman? What should we expect from Kris Jenkins?
So let's go ahead and get this started. Here are our participants this time around:
1) Generally, what are your expectations for Villanova basketball this year and will they be better or worse than last season
Chris: I think it's widely expected that the team wins the Big East regular season title again and goes deeper in to the NCAA Tournament. The Sweet 16 is the bare minimum, though the Elite 8 is my personal barometer. Better or worse is tough to say. I think they can be a better team and do more damage in the postseason, but I doubt that they will replicate last year's stellar conference record.
Brian: I'd expect a Big East title and a win or two in the NCAA tournament. I'd like to say that I expect a lot more -- a Final Four, or Championship, but I think part of that equation is based on match-ups in the tournament. Villanova will have many of the same strengths and weaknesses this season as they did last year, and how far they can go is likely to depend a lot on how well they play toward and against those, respectively.
TRT: Because they had such a stellar regular season last year, I'll take the under, to possibly have a better season would be to top 29 wins, which I don't see happening. But, the consolation is I think Villanova will have a better postseason this year, which isn't saying too much because they got bounced early in both tournaments. I don't see how they don't win the regular season title again this year, unless Georgetown or Seton Hall turn out to be the real deal. Either way, Villanova needs a Sweet 16 or national media will keep saying they're over-fluffed and overhyped in the regular season.
Ryan: I think the Wildcats will be better this season. It seems hard to fathom that after losing only 3 games in the conference last year. Seton Hall may be a problem with Isaiah Whitehead, but too many freshmen means little chemistry off the bat. Creighton will most likely have a down year this year, per the graph below.
2) Outside of Darrun Hilliard, who's going to be the second key player to step up and help fill the scoring role James Bell had last season?
Chris: I'll ignore the easy answer of JayVaughn Pinkston - if we expect Hilliard's ppg to increase I think it's safe to say that we should expect JVP's to increase too. I think Kris Jenkins will see the biggest ppg jump from a year ago, but that Josh Hart will end up third on the team in scoring behind Hilliard/Pinkston. So, totally hedging my bets there.
Brian: JayVaughn Pinkston. Since I assume everyone will say that, though, I'll pick Ryan Arcidiacono. He took a step back in scoring last season from his freshman campaign and I think that will not remain a trend this year. With Phil Booth and Dylan Ennis set to get some time in the back court next to him, I think that Jay Wright will encourage him to look for his shot a little more this season -- especially in sets that have him shifting off the ball.
TRT: It should be JVP right? That's who it almost has to be. He's a huge mismatch at the four in the college basketball world at 6-foot-7, 240 lbs. The one thing I'd like to see is how much he can step out of the post and score from the midrange. If he can find that shot once or twice a game, he can start to get more touches around the foul line and keep defenses on their heels. It'll add another level to his game. If Josh Hart gets the start at two-guard, he could be interesting when it comes to ppg. What if he ends up scoring 13/14 a game? Something to think about.
Ryan: Bell averaged 14.4 PPG in 29.5 MPG. Daniel Ochefu averaged only 5.7 PPG in 21.7 MPG. It's hard to imagine Ochefu tripling his output this year, no matter how many more minutes he sees. However, with Hilliard taking a lion's share of the void, seeing Ochefu improve on the year will be a good measuring stick for senior year. If he can fill in at least a few points a game, that means everyone else saw a scoring rise as well, all of which are great products.
Looking at the schedule, would it be fair to say Jay Wright has improved the non conference schedule? Will the conference be tougher this year?
Chris: Ask me again after the season. Last year we thought Iowa was a great OOC win before the Hawkeyes fell apart. VCU and Syracuse are great games, and Michigan is another potentially solid game. The Big 5 looks like it will be way down this year, while it's unlucky to get Illinois instead of Louisville in the Jimmy V. Preseason events are always a crapshoot. I'd like to see the AD work harder to get old Big East foes back on the schedule for home-and-homes.
Brian: I'm not sure that it's fair. Last season's non-conference schedule featured four major-conference opponents and three of them were ranked. This season, the only non-conference opponent guaranteed to be ranked will be VCU. That isn't to say that I'd overlook the value of playing either Michigan or Oregon, Illinois or Syracuse -- any one of those schools could turn out to be pretty big-time by the end of the season. It will just be tough to match a schedule that featured top-10 opponents in Kansas and Syracuse and a TOUGH top-25 opponent in Iowa. Not much credit to anyone though, since most of these marquee games are arranged through the pre-season tournament carousel.
In-conference, Creighton's strength will be diminished, but other schools are hopefully set to recover a bit from last year. If Georgetown can take a step forward, Providence can stay on-course and Seton Hall can live up to its recruiting, then the Big East will hopefully be more competitive all-around, so no single game will be tougher than what Creighton represented last year, but more challenge across the board will make the league better.
TRT: On paper, I prefer this season's non conference schedule than last season's, but that's before any games are played. Who knows if VCU, Michigan, Syracuse, Illinois, Oregon or others will end up as duds by season's end like Iowa and other games were by season's end? But this team playing VCU early in the season? I'm all for that, I think they were one of last season's tougher teams and almost won the A-10. I just like this schedule a bit more, because it's newer and last season's was just all and all a dud to me outside of Atlantis.
But, I think the conference play is what will prove to be more important. Last season, Villanova skipped through conference play, with abrasions only coming from Creighton. This year, Georgetown, St. John's, Seton Hall (maybe Providence?) will all play them tougher, and are expected to, not to say all of last year's games were horrible to watch. If this conference season turns out to be all it's hyped up to be, the Big East could be close to a resurgence, a small one albeit.
Ryan: Wright must have heard the critics last season. Seeing how unchallenging (I need to watch what I say; that could come back and bite me) the conference was, he knew that the OOC schedule was going to be strongly looked at by the NCAA Committee come mid-March. Signing up for the Jimmy V Classic and Legends Classic is a great way to counterbalance the struggling in-conference foes.
Who's going to give the Wildcats their toughest test this season and are they still perceived the top team in the BE?
Chris: They have to still be perceived as the best team in the conference. They didn't lose a lot, added a couple Top-100 players, and save-Creighton ran roughshod over the conference. Georgetown feels like the biggest threat but a lot depends on how good those freshmen are - they look pretty friggan good. Xavier lost Christon, but they also bring back a lot of talent.
Brian: VCU. In the Big East, I think it will be Georgetown. The Hoyas weren't themselves last season, but they're going to be better this season and I'd pick them to finish second in the league behind 'Nova.
TRT: Out of conference? VCU hands down. In conference? A combo of Georgetown and Seton Hall. Yes, I am high on the SHU train this year and yes, Chris has warned me plenty of times. I'll chock it up to me being a young buck and not being fully aware of, literally every year, the St. John's and SHU hype. But, I've watched a lot of Isaiah Whitehead in the last two years and I've seen a good amount of Georgetown's new freshmen and SHU's and they've got a damn good amount of talent. Like NBA caliber talent. But if G-town and SHU don't find balanced lineups and chemistry, then it's all for nothing. I do know this, Whitehead might have the most pressure on him of any recruit coming to Seton Hall, maybe ever. And Willard might have his job on the line if this season doesn't pan out correctly.
I'm sure Ryan is running up and down his new apartment with the hopes that SHU will be dominant.
Ryan: This both pains me and gives me joy to say- the Seton Hall Pirates. With 7 freshmen coming in, most notably the 5-star recruit Whitehead, and Gibbs returning, they will be a force to reckon with. Hopefully their miscommunication will carry through the season.
Who has a bigger season and why? Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart, Dylan Ennis or Kris Jenkins?
Chris: I think the media story will focus on Hart's breakout season - it's expected and he's such a solid player that he'll likely deliver the stats to back it up with increased minutes. I personally think we'll be talking about Jenkins as the season progresses. He's got a sweet stroke and really came on late last year. He, like Hart, plays with a lot of fire and is a guy the fans can get behind. If he can replace Bell's outside shooting Villanova will continue to put up big points and be tough to beat.
Brian: Josh Hart. The offseason talk makes it sound like Phil Booth will be getting a significant role right away, but I also can foresee Hart taking advantage of some of the momentum he built last season. It's tough to pick from this group, and I think each will contribute in 2014-15, but the 'Cats seem poised to push Hart into a starting role this season, which should give him the best chance to flourish.
TRT: After sitting in a private practice session with him, I'm inclined to say Phil Booth Jr. Hart will have a dominant season, Jenkins may end up being the Sixth Man of the Year in the conference, but Booth Jr., brings something Villanova desperately needs and barely has, strong perimeter defenders. Booth Jr. brings that and more. He's a gritty guard that can go coast-to-coast with ease after a strip and is capable from three. He'll replace Tony Chennault's role from last year and should add some offense from the backup guard spot this year, something Chennault never really did. I'll go with the fresh-meat.
Ryan: Josh Hart. He was a major offensive spark off the bench, getting the crowd pumped up at the same time. We'll have to see if he'll get the starting gig, but he most definitely will see a bump from his 21.4 MPG.