The junior class is my favorite group of players on the team. The seniors are your big name veterans that will take younger teammates under their wing and rally the team around them. The
sophomores sophomore has a chip on his shoulder to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. The freshmen a bright eyed and bushy tailed and no one knows what they’ll bring to the table, though hopes are quite high.
But the Junior class has the most expectations laid on them. We’ve seen them for two years now, and we expect to see them perform even better than their previous two seasons. We expect them to begin to take on leadership roles. We expect them to get cool nicknames like "Bump", "Bethlehem Steel", or Shane "Money" Clark. Ok, some of the nicknames aren’t cool, but they’re expected. Just in case they need some help with those, I’ve added my suggestions below.
The interesting thing about this class is each of its three members will be facing a different level of expectation. One will be asked to step into the shoes of last year’s leading scorer. One will be asked to move from role player to starter. And the third will be asked not to turn the ball over and play good defense. But the question remains, will they live up to expectations?
I heart Josh Hart. I can’t say it enough. I know this article is supposed to be stat free, but I’m going to throw one out there anyway: Josh Hart is good at 100% of the stats. You need a clutch three, there’s Josh Hart. You need a forced turnover, there’s Josh Hart. You need someone to come flying in out of nowhere to grab rebounds away from centers and forwards three to four times his height? It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Josh Hart!
Two years of progressive improvement culminated in his performance at last year’s Big East Tournament. While many people will see the dynamic and versatile ways Hart was able to score last year, my love for him started with, and continues to be, his rebounding. It’s not that he’s better than you at rebounding (even though he is). It’s that he wants that ball more than you or any other player on the court. It’s a combination of putting himself in the right spots to get the ball, great athleticism, and a tenacious hunger to win the loose ball that makes him one of, if not the best, rebounding guard I’ve ever seen.
But now Hart is expected to take his performance in the BET and stretch it out over an entire season. While this team will have a number of scoring options, Hart is expected to be #1 more often than not. He’ll be a defensive focus of teams, not just the first man off the bench. So for me, the biggest adjustment Hart needs to make for this season is how he handles the pressure of that expectation, not just from the fans, but from his team. Personally, I think this kid is cool as a cucumber. Sure he’ll have an off night, but he doesn’t seem to slump or hang on to a bad game for a long period of time. I think Hart is the real deal and will have a smooth transition into the role of leading scorer.
Jenk The Tank
Just this past weekend I was talking with a friend who asked me who I thought would be the starters for this season. When I mentioned Jenkins as the four, he said "I don’t know why, but I don’t like Kris Jenkins". This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, but every time I do I’m forced to ask why wouldn’t you like Jenkins? Our own ghabeeb had a great article on the underated nature of Jenkins game, but beyond stats I think I’ve pinned down why people aren’t as fond of Jenkins.
Let’s start with playing time. Jenkins didn’t see the court as much as a lot of other contributors last season, especially at the end of games where heroics can land you a permanent place in Villanova lore no matter how big your role. Look no further than Malcolm Grant in the game against LSU for evidence of that. But even with fewer minutes, Jenkins played effectively in the system and did exactly what his role required of him. Jenkins will never be a "go to guy" for Villanova, but he will have a few big games this season. I like to think of him as "low ceiling, high floor". Not a star, but very consistent.
Another reason I think people don’t know why they don’t like Kris Jenkins is first impressions. Jenkins came to Villanova as a chunky freshman guard with an "old man" game. That’s not the typical guard in Jay Wright’s "Guard U" system. Even now that he’s shed some weight and shown an improved inside game offensively and defensively, I think people still see him as "BIG" Kris Jenkins. I think he’s going to surprise some people this year with a few of the crafty moves he started trying last year inside the arc.
Lastly, I think people see him as a defensive liability if he has to guard the four. Jenkins is 6’6 and some would argue that’s too small to effectively guard the 4 position. Let’s take a walk down memory road at who has guarded the 4 position in the four guard lineup: Bell (6’6), Anderson (6’6), Foye (6’4). While Jenkins lacks the speed and quickness of some of these guys, he makes up for it in physicality and width. I’m not saying he’s the next defensive player of the year, but I think he’ll do just fine.
Darryl "Please don’t foul out of the game, we’re short on bigs!" Reynolds
The best thing about a blowout at home is getting to see the bench players on the court. These guys put in just as much time and effort as the rest of the team, but don’t see a lot of playing time. For the last two seasons, Darryl Reynolds has been #1 on this list. Now he’s going to have the opportunity to step into a bigger role as probably the second guy off the bench for Villanova this season, and more importantly as the #2 guy on our "big guy" depth chart. Outside of the Freshman class, Reynolds abilities have the most question marks around his game.
For me, there are two promising signs that Reynolds could be a contributing role player this season. The first is the time he spent on the floor last season. Granted, he wasn’t going up against starters, but he often remained poised and threw in a few offensive moves and blocks. With another year of development under his belt, I think he’s ready to play consistent minutes, even if it’s on the low end.
More importantly though, is practice. Yes, we’re talking about practice. For the last two years, Reynolds has been paired with Ochefu in practice. While this may have a very small impact on Ochefu’s improvement, it’s a big part of Reynolds development. When you go up against the best Center in your conference every day, you’re going to improve your game or get left in the dust. From what we’ve seen on the court and heard from the coaches, I’m guessing it’s closer to the former.
The Eye Test is a stat-free look at all things Villanova Basketball. Thanks for reading and leave your comments below!