This time last year the Villanova Wildcats were preparing to challenge a new-look Big East conference coming off a year of disappointment. They answered with an almost-flawless regular season and an early postseason exit.
Bringing in two capable freshman, losing three seniors and keeping a bevy of faces that led the team to a regular season title, there are some hanging questions in the air. With practice opening tomorrow for the Wildcats and teams all across the nation, what are the questions hanging over the Wildcats?
1) Can Villanova stay undefeated until their December 20th rematch with Syracuse? The immediate differences between this season and last season is that the Wildcats are without leading scorer James Bell, though that shouldn't be an issue because Darrun Hilliard can fill his shoes. But on the side of the Orange, Jim Boeheim's squad is depleted. Missing, C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis, two big pieces to last season's success, Cuse' might not be able to beat Villanova this time around, especially not on home turf.
But really, it's about if they can stay undefeated in the ten games preceding the late December clash. Their first test comes November 24th in the Legend's Classic against Shaka Smart's "Havoc" defense and VCU, if they can get past that, they play Michigan or Oregon, both tough tests. December 6th against Saint Joseph's might not be the easiest with sophomore Deandre Bembry leading a squad that just came off a championship. Though the Hawks did just lose three seniors, depending on how imposing they are early in the season, the Wildcats should be able to handle them.
Chances Nova stays perfect until playing Syracuse are worse than last season when their schedule consisted of: Lafayette, Mount Saint Mary's, Towson, Delaware, USC, Kansas, Iowa, Penn, SJU, La Salle, Rider and then 'Cuse. This season it looks like: Lehigh, UMES, Bucknell, VCU, possibly: Michigan/Oregon, Delaware, La Salle, SJU, Illinois and then 'Cuse.
2) Who replaces Tony Chennault as the backup guard or who becomes the new sixth man? This should be something that will fluctuate throughout the season, depending on the play of three people: Phil Booth Jr., Dylan Ennis and Josh Hart. If Hart gets thrown into the starting lineup (which for hypothetical purposes should look like: (Arch/Hart/Hilliard/JVP/Chef) then it's a tough decision between Ennis and Booth Jr. for who's the first off the bench.
Ennis brings a veteran experience and stronger perimeter shooting than Booth Jr., plus a player that can play the 1 or 2 and defend both positions well enough for Jay Wright's scheme. Booth Jr. however brings skill as a more complete player and as an overall better perimeter defender, so that's a tough choice to decide. If Hart does end up being the starter a two-guard over Ennis, then Ennis should be the first off the bench because of his ability to score from deep and play good enough defense. If he proves to be a bad choice, then Booth Jr. should do the trick.
Kris Jenkins, though much improved, should be reserved as the second player from the bench because, ideally, he's replacing JVP when the lineups go small, Hart could slide to the three, Booth Jr. and Ennis can be the backcourt in any order.
3) Where do the freshmen (Mikal Bridges/Booth Jr.) fit in to the scheme? Now that's going to be a tough one. Booth Jr. can fit in immediately, but Bridges, who's would be very weak in the front court at the four, doesn't seem versatile enough to play both forward positions. But he should be able to see some time. He's a great scorer and versatile offensively plus he can run in transition very well. The only problem is: if he's put at the four and asked to defend capable front court players, he becomes a liability. He's the lightest forward on the team.
I'll assume that Bridges will have a similar role to Jenkins last year and will be eased into the pace of college basketball slowly compared to Booth Jr. who will have to hit the ground running.
4) Who's the biggest threat to the Wildcats this season? In order: Georgetown, Seton Hall, St. John's and Butler. Georgetown is really the biggest threat with a lineup full of five-star talent. Bringing in four-star players L.J Peak and Paul White and stud big man Issac Copeland, the 16th best freshman in the nation compiled by ESPN. That and they retain D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, Jabril Trawick, Aaron Bowen and Mikael Hopkins. Georgetown will make a serious run at a BE title this year, though Villanova should still be considered the favorite.
Seton Hall brings in a ridiculous amount of talent, the two most important names being Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado from New York. Whitehead is being dubbed "the next Ray Allen" by some analysts, though, it is FAR too early to be comparing him that way. But in all honesty, the kid is the real deal. He can shoot from anywhere over the half court line and hit it with confidence. Really, check the tapes. Delgado brings them another front court player with Eugene Teague and Brian Oliver gone from the program. But unless SHU's chemistry is where it needs to be, Nova should be a favorite there too.
St. John's will bring back D'Angelo Harrison and Rysheed Jordan but will be out of JaKarr Sampson. As usual, they will be a tough game and they bring in a solid JUCO player in Keith Thomas, but the Red Storm always have talent, it's if they will put it together come game time. Lastly, Butler will return a solid starting lineup of: Alex Barlow, Kellen Dunham, Roosevelt Jones and Kameron Woods, all quality players, but they will be without head coach Brandon Miller, who's taking a medical absence.
Xavier and Providence will return to form as well. Let's just say this year in the Big East should be a tad bit better during the regular season.
5) Who will be the biggest surprise on the Wildcats this season? Going to have to go with Jenkins here. This should be his season to build on his great play last season and to show the conference what he learned overseas. We all assume that Hart is going to do well in his starting position so he's not a surprise there, but we didn't get to see enough of Jenkins last season. With an assumed boast in minutes in his sophomore stint, he should turn a few heads and push his offensive production up a good amount.