After the 2013-14 season concluded, VU Hoops staff got together to discuss the season that just ended, our thoughts, expectations and what lies ahead. For this discussion four of our regular writers offered their responses to some questions; Chris Lane (CL), Tyler Tynes (TRT), Kevin Pulsifer (KP) and Jeremy Menninger (JM).
We painted in broad strokes with these questions, covering a lot of ground. We will follow up this set with some more specific roundtables in the coming weeks -- addressing these areas or areas of interest that arise in the comments in greater depth.
(1) Did Villanova exceed, meet or fall short of your expectations for this season?
CL: At the end of the day, they met my expectations. With so much talent returning, I was looking for a big jump forward nationally, which they delivered. I craved a Big East regular season title (more impressive than the Tournament title in my eyes), and they brought home that trophy too. They needed to at the very least make the Elite 8 to exceed my tournament expectations, and since they didn't get to the Sweet 16 they get a negative check there. All in all, a great season that was soured a bit by the finish. Easy for fans to forget how much fun the ride was though.
TRT: I think this is a two-pronged answer between the regular season and the aberration that happened after it. Villanova had an amazing regular season, a historic one as well. 28 regular season wins is a hard number to accomplish, Big East change or not. So as far as the regular season, the team easily exceeded expectations.
But the postseason is a different story. In my opinion, Jay Wright got out-coached two of their three postseason appearances and Villanova looked slightly suspect before they started pulling away from Milwaukee. The postseason was a huge failure after such a successful regular season campaign. The minimum for how they were playing should have been the Sweet 16, even though I thought they'd lose in the Round of 32 from the beginning of the season.
KP: Villanova far exceeded expectations for any reasonable fan. We started out simply receiving votes for the AP Poll, and no one seemed upset at that fact. We lost a game or two that we should have had in the bag, but no one expected the regular season run we had. I would have originally been satisfied with 2nd-3rd in the conference, 1 Big East Tourney win, and 1 NCAA win. Didn't get the BE win, and considering we were a 2 seed I wish we could have done more, but considering we went from 13-19 to ranked top 5 in the country in 2 years, I'm happy with where we ended up.
JM: Villanova exceeded my expectations in all respects except for the tournaments. I never expected a 3 loss regular season, nor the upset against Kansas. However I thought this team was above the bad losses, but Seton Hall proved that wrong at the worst time, and I think we dropped the game against UConn as well.
(2) What did Villanova do right this season and what could they have improved upon?
CL: The deep rotation was brilliant by Jay Wright. In the past he's leaned heavily on 6-7 guys, tops, and his team has suffered because of it. He had 9 guys ready to contribute, and contribute they did. That depth made the middle of the season somewhat of a breeze.
The postseason performance needs to be fixed, ASAP. The last few tournament appearances have felt like the team was just happy to be there and lost their edge that they've competed with for the entire season. Maybe it's one-and-done nerves, maybe it's inexperience, but it cannot happen next year.
TRT: Villanova did a lot of things right this year. As Corollary described in his first post with VU Hoops, they played very well in transition, they moved the ball very well (were 26th in the NCAA in assists) and they played well offensively and defensively as far as pace (32nd best O-Rating and D-Rating.
The Wildcats could improve the best in three areas: perimeter defense, on-ball defense and three point shooting. Though the Wildcats made the 9th most threes in the NCAA and attempted the 4th most, they shot it at 35.6% on the season, good for 120th in the NCAA. This is mainly due to poor shot selection, shooting threes in transition, taking contested threes and those games when guys like Arch shoots worse than 40% because he takes too many (it's happened in 18 games this season). Of course we know the game plan won't change, Nova will keep shooting threes, but if they could shoot just a few less per game or possibly just didn't chuck them at first chance, it might improve their efficiency.
Perimeter D and on-ball D are pretty self-explanatory, the numbers say Villanova defended the perimeter well, but I feel like baiting you opponents to shoot and not closing out on your defender will eventually bite you in the butt. There were a few occasions this season against tougher opponents when it did. On-ball D comes down to how defensively sound your backcourt is. Hilliard does fine guarding his men and so does Pinkston for the most part. Ochefu can't step out to the perimeter or guard anyone away from the paint and Arch and Bell just got blown by a few times a game. Jay has said it was an emphasis this season since day 1, but I never saw the guys make much improvement, the starting guards anyway.
KP: They played defense right, that's for sure. The help defense fell apart occasionally, but no defense is soundproof, so for a team without lottery picks, we played almost as well as we could have. That being said, we took too many threes. I know, I know, "Shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets", and I'm fine with that as a general strategy. But in the second half, sometimes you can make adjustments, and we were inconsistent in that regard.
JM: Villanova did a lot of things right... we also did a lot of things wrong. Defense was pretty consistently our calling card, but toward the end of the season it was the 3-ball. Offensive interior play needs to improve. There was that one game where JVP and Ochefu rocked the high-low post game then it was gone the next game. We did that all too often - do one thing right one game, then abandon it the next. From a strategic perspective I'd like to see Jay reel in the players just a little bit and force more offense going toward the rim. We settle for shots on a lot of possessions rather than driving and finishing.
(3) Going into 2014-15, the Wildcats lose their top-scorer in James Bell and backup point guard Tony Chennault, but otherwise return everyone. That will likely keep expectations high for this group. Would you want to temper those expectations, or do you think they may be too low?
CL: Replacing Bell will be a tall task. If Booth can avoid the freshmen learning curve like Josh Hart did, we should be fine on the backup guard position, and maybe even better offensively. I'm not tempering expectations though. This is clearly the premier program in the Big East right now, and they should be winning the regular season championship again. If they don't, it's a disappointment.
The postseason expectations have to stay where they are. The Sweet 16 is a minimum, and frankly the Elite 8 should be what is acceptable to this fanbase, the players, and the coaches. If you want to be a Top 10 program, that is what needs to happen year after year.
TRT: I think Villanova is a legitimate top-25 team next year, just like I did this year. But they're big tests will be how they play against tougher teams outside of conference play. The Big East won't be doing them any favors when it comes to testing this team, it certainly didn't this season. From what I've heard and been told by a few scouts and coaches, Phil Booth is going to make a bigger impact than we think off the bench and I've seen Mikal Bridges play plenty of times to be confident in the impact he will immediately make as well.
Depending on the starting lineup, this Wildcat team (though it may be hard to believe) could be better than last season's and it will probably come down to the bench. The bench fizzled at the end of the year last season, but with Bridges (an extremely versatile scorer that can run the point at times if need be), Booth (a scoring point-man that will do more for the team than Chennualt ever could offensively), an improved Hart, Jenkins (and maybe) Ennis and Reynolds. On paper for the time being, this team seems a lot better than last season's.
KP: Bell was a great leader for this team, and came up with some of the most clutch plays of our entire season (most notably the 3-ball run against Iowa that helped us reach overtime). It reminded me of the Syracuse win last year, where he seemed cold most of the game but then sank 2 bombs in OT that gave us the win. He was a little cold at the end of the year, though, and I think Jenkins and Hart can eat up his minutes with just as much efficiency next year. We might lose a few alley-oops, but we'll add 4-5 more acrobatic rebounds a game.
We're being ranked in pre-pre-preseason polls, and not in the 20s, so I'd say people are judging us pretty accurately right now. I'm looking forward to next year.
JM: I would like to temper Villanova's expectations for their team. We'll be good but I don't see how you could improve on a 3-loss regular season campaign. It's just not going to happen. I think we'll drop a couple more during the regular season, but be primed for the BE tournament and March Madness. Those guys will have a lot of experience at MSG and in a tournament atmosphere.
(4) Which Big East school will present the biggest challenge to the Wildcats chances of repeating as conference champion next season?
CL: Georgetown will be very talented, but probably too young. St. John's is losing too much talent and not bringing enough in. Seton Hall is bring a ton back, and bringing a ton in. I think they could be the Cinderella next year if those freshmen are ready to play.
TRT: I'll go with the team that knocked them out of the tournament and the man that outcoached Jay Wright, Kevin Willard and Seton Hall. They bring in the 12th best recruiting class in the nation with 5 commits and two ESPN top-100 players and probably the best shooting guard in the class: Isaiah Whitehead. I've watched this kid play maybe half a dozen times and I can't find anyway who would want to guard him, and you have to guard him from 30 feet out, he's that good and can launch from anywhere. Combine him with Desi Rodriguez, his high school teammate and another top-100 player, Angel Delgado and Seton Hall becomes a problem.
Imagine a lineup of Gibbs/Whitehead/Mobley or Rodriguez/Delgado/Auda and then Sina, Khadeen Carrington, Ismael Sanogo, and then the three other freshman from 2013 Willard brought in. Of course we'll have to wait and see what happens and how Willard gets all of these guys playing time, but I'll go with Seton Hall because I've been going with them for a while. I doubt Providence will be that much of a threat, though they bring in a top-25 class as well, without Bryce Cotton.
Georgetown is the only other strong threat to Villanova. They bring in the 7th best recruiting class in the country with Issac Copeland and a player that's impressed me for a while, Paul White, who played next to Jahlil Okafor (going to Duke) for 4 years. They'll be tough to beat too. I assume the top of the BE should be a lot tougher all season and not just for the last two weeks of the year.
KP: You'd have been hard-pressed to find another team more capable of giving us trouble in the future than the one team that played us close both times in 2014: St. John's. Creighton is losing everyone, and McDermott is a good enough coach to get them above .500 in this conference, but that's it. Any of the middling teams from last year (Georgetown, Providence, Xavier, Marquette, and St. John's) could easily pick up the slack. Chris Obekpa, who originally made it clear he wanted to transfer, is now apparently coming back, and a team that really came on strong late has the potential to play as a team all year. I bet they'll be ranked at some point next year.
JM: Man, the conference sucked this year. It was a major let down during a crucial year. And next year Creighton will be garbage, Butler will struggle, Seton Hall and DePaul are perpetually bad... Providence loses Bryce Cotton and I don't see Henton filling it up the same way. Marquette has a new coach. I don't know I guess Georgetown or Xavier? St. John's could be decent.
(5) After one season of play, was the new Big East what you expected, or was it a disappointment?
CL: It was a disappointment. I was disappointed in Val Ackerman's (lack of) media presence throughout the year. I thought she needed to be doing much more self-promotion of the conference. As far as the teams, there were way too many average teams that beat up on each other. That's what is bound to happen with a small conference but Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, and Seton Hall need to perform a lot better out of conference, and in-conference, if this conference is going to send 4-5 teams dancing every year.
TRT: The BE was what I expected, a disappointment. A team that left the BE won the National Championship. It can't get much worse than that. BE teams only won two games in the tournament. The highlight of the BE, to me, was the conference tournament, that was the most fun to watch. But other than that, the BE didn't do anything to really impress me all year. The best team in the conference's regular season got bounced in the first round of the conference's tournament and kicked the first weekend of the NCAA's. There's a need for improvement. Year-long improvement.
KP: It was 100000% what I expected. New faces, more hate from ESPN, but I was just glad to see that the style of Big East basketball stayed the same. NCAA Tournament wins does not explain a conference's strength (The SEC had 2 Final Four teams, but they still sucked), so it's fine by me to have 2 teams ranked in the top 10 in KenPom at the end of the regular season. I would have liked one more dominant team rather than 5 middling teams, but I think we'll be just fine here. Adding a few teams would be really cool though.
JM: I guess I shot my wad too early and already complained about the conference. They were awful. None of the teams could get their shit together. Really can't emphasize enough how disappointed I was in the Big Easy.