Villanova is a sleeper team in 2011-2012

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In 2009, Scottie Reynolds led Villanova to the Final Four after the Wildcats finished fourth in a Big East that was as loaded at the top as any league in recent memory.

But it wasn’t the presence of Reynolds — or Dante Cunningham, Corey Fisher or Corey Stokes — that made that Villanova team so good.

The Wildcats won because they had players like Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark and Reggie Redding, versatile defenders that were able to guard multiple positions on the floor and play different roles in the Villanova offense. Having those three players on the roster allowed Wright to install a smothering, switch-everything defense on the perimeter that was very difficult to prepare for; its not a defense that a lot of teams at this level run.

This season, Villanova’s roster has a similar make-up to that club. They have their star point guard in Maalik Wayns, a kid I’m not alone in thinking will have a big season as he embraces the role of leader for this team. They also have Mouphtaou Yarou in the paint. Yarou was a top 20 recruit in the class of 2010, but was just getting his feet under him last season after spending much of his freshman season sick.

But what makes Villanova particularly dangerous this season is the presence of players like Dominic Cheek, James Bell and JayVaughn Pinkston.

Cheek and Bell are both perimeter players that came into the program with a decent amount of hype. Cheek was a top 30 players nationally while Bell was top 50. Neither of them have come close to living up to those kind of expectations this season. What makes them intriguing pieces for this year’s team is their physical profiles — Cheek is a 6’6″ small forward whose biggest contributions thus far in his Villanova career have been on the defensive end of the floor, while Bell is a chiseled, 6’5″ shooting guard struggled to see the floor as he dealt with shin problems last season.

But the real x-factor for this year’s team is going to be JayVaughn Pinkston, a freshman that was forced to sit out last season as a punishment from the school for a fight that he was involved in that sent two frat boys to the hospital. Pinkston is listed at 6’7″ and 260 lb, but he’s a guy that can play both forward positions, reminiscent of the role Dwayne Anderson played for this team two years ago. He’s not only capable of battling with some of the Big East’s biggest on the glass, but he can step out and bury a three-pointer if he’s left unguarded. He’s performed well enough in his limited time with the Wildcats to have Jay Wright publicly saying he projects him to start this year.

After the late seasons collapses that Villanova has experienced the past two years, it would be easy to just write them off heading into 2011-2012.

But keep an eye on this team. They will surprise you.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.