Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 11 Villanova.
Head Coach: Jay Wright
Last Season: 29-5, 16-2 Big East (1st), lost in the Round of 32 to UConn
Key Losses: James Bell
Newcomers: Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges
– G: Ryan Arcidiacono, Jr.
– G: Darrun Hilliard, Sr.
– G: Josh Hart, So.
– F: JayVaughn Pinkston, Sr.
– C: Daniel Ochefu, Sr.
– Bench: Dylan Ennis, Sr.; Kris Jenkins, So.; Mikal Bridges, Fr.; Phil Booth, Fr.
They’ll be good because … : Jay Wright has put together the kind of roster that made him so successful during the ’00s. He’s got a versatile roster loaded with talented, veteran guards and made up of players that Wright targeted in recruiting because of their skill set, not their rankings on Rivals. It all starts with Ryan Arcidiacono, a junior point guard that has now started for two years for the Wildcats. He cut his turnovers in half last season, and while his production dipped, he became exactly the kind of ball-control point guard that Wright needed him to be.
Villanova loses their leading scorer from last season, but they do return two noted offensive weapons. Darrun Hilliard is the best perimeter scorer for Villanova, a left-handed sharpshooter that his 44.7% of his threes in Big East play. JayVaughn Pinkston is a big-bodied power forward that can overwhelm defenders in the post despite being just 6-foot-6, but he’s quick enough and skilled enough to be a matchup problem on the perimeter as well. The player to keep an eye on: sophomore Josh Hart, who had a promising freshman season and could fit nicely into the role vacated by Bell.
But they might disappoint because … : Jay Wright has not amassed a ton of size on his interior. Pinkston and sophomore Kris Jenkins are both built like bulldozers, but center Daniel Ochefu is really the only “big guy” on the roster. On the one hand, this allows Villanova to create matchup problems offensively, as Pinkston and Jenkins — and, at times, Hart — are difficult for traditional big men to guard.
But on the other hand, Villanova doesn’t have the kind of roster that can take advantage of a team going small against them. Case in point: Creighton. Villanova lost three regular season games last season, and two of them were blowout losses against the Bluejays where the Wildcats were clueless trying to find a way to guard Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge on the three-point line. They lost to a UConn team that made their tournament run taking advantage of the mismatches Deandre Daniels created at the four. A 29-5 record speaks for itself, but who Villanova lost to last season does as well.
Outlook: Villanova swept everyone in the Big East this past season that did not have Doug McDermott, arguably the best college basketball player of our generation, on the roster. The only game they lost in non-conference play was on their return visit to Syracuse. They beat Kansas and Iowa on back-to-back night in a dining hall in the Bahamas. They went 29-5 and essentially bring back the exact same roster.
But the Wildcats aren’t finding themselves in the top five of any preseason rankings, and that’s a direct result of two things: They lost in the first round of the Big East tournament and the Round of 32 in the NCAA tournament, and they didn’t bring add any program-changing freshmen to the mix. This season, expect Villanova to once again post a gaudy record. Don’t be surprised to see them enter the Big East tournament with an unblemished league record.
But if they fizzle out early in March again, don’t be surprised to have their regular season accomplishments somewhat overlooked. Such is life in the Big East these days.