After rebound season, Nova built to contend in Big East
This preview and more on Villanova and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
Villanova Facts & Figures
Last season: 20-14 (10-8 Big East)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 64
Coach: Jay Wright (257-144 at Villanova)
Big East projection: Fourth
Postseason projection: NCAA Round of 64
Jay Wright knew last season’s team was talented, but most people had their eyes focused on the 2013-14 season as the year when Villanova could really make noise.
That all changed during one week in late January, when the Wildcats knocked off Louisville and Syracuse in back-to-back games. They quickly went from a team struggling with consistency to one that could beat anyone.
“I didn’t know if we would become a good team in February or in March, but then in January we won those games,” Wright says. “I thought, we have the ability to do this right now. I think we all recognized that week that we can do it right now.”
Villanova ended up riding those two wins to an NCAA Tournament berth, falling to North Carolina in the Round of 64. The Wildcats lose just one (Mouphtaou Yarou) of their top six players, and an additional season of experience is only going to help.
“I think we have a chance to be a better team,” Wright says. “We’re going to miss Mouph, but we’re bringing back the whole team. That year of playing together is more valuable than bringing in a great player.”
The loss of Yarou, who started 107 games in his career, will impact the Wildcats’ post play. The center responsibilities will now fall to Daniel Ochefu, a sophomore who came to Villanova as a 4-star recruit. Ochefu has shown flashes of his potential, but his numbers dwindled as the season progressed. He needs to be more aggressive, especially in a relatively small Villanova lineup.
“We’re really excited about him,” Wright says. “He’s a completely different player than Mouph. More perimeter-oriented, finesse. We’re hoping he can be the biggest factor in making up for Mouph’s rebounding and defense.”
Jayvaughn Pinkston has continued to improve after a rocky start to his Nova career. He knows what he is — an undersized power forward who simply outworks and overpowers opponents. And it’s effective. The 6-7 Pinkston was the team’s leading scorer and second-leading rebounder last season.
Depth will come from two freshmen — Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. Jenkins came up through the famed Gonzaga (D.C.) College High School program, while Reynolds was a late signee with a good frame.
Wright is known to fill his lineups with aggressive, attack-minded perimeter players. This year’s backcourt is a little different, but it’s still a deep, experienced group.
Ryan Arcidiacono burst onto the scene as a freshman, scoring in double-figures in the first five games of the season. He showed some inconsistency, but finished strong — hitting double digits in eight of his last nine contests. Expect his efficiency to improve as a sophomore.
Backcourt mate Darrun Hilliard averaged 11.4 points last season though he shot only 40.3 percent from the field. On the wing, James Bell is arguably the team’s best 3-point threat. He has a strong build and can help out on the glass and defend bigger small forwards. When Bell and Hilliard can keep defenses honest from the perimeter, the Wildcats’ offense becomes difficult to defend.
After sitting out last season, Rice transfer Dylan Ennis will help shore up the backcourt depth. Ennis, whose younger brother Tyler plays at Syracuse, could ease some of the pressure off of Arcidiacono.
“He’s going to fill a lot of roles,” Wright says. “He’s athletic and strong enough to guard a 3-man at times, and he’s good enough with the ball to play the point. We look at him as a basketball player.”
During the spring, it looked as though Tony Chennault would transfer, but he ultimately decided to return. Freshman Josh Hart can provide assistance on the wing. He’s an aggressive offensive player with size.
Outside of Dylan Ennis, Jay Wright might not need an immediate impact from the newcomers. Josh Hart is an aggressive scorer, while Kris Jenkins should be able to come off the bench and provide some pop. Darryl Reynolds was a spring addition to the group, and he will provide some interior depth. Ennis, though, should be a key asset for Wright on the perimeter after transferring from Rice.
Villanova has the pieces in place to be a factor in the new-look Big East. Arcidiacono should be more consistent with his shot selection and decision-making, while Pinkston gives the Wildcats a legitimate go-to-guy around the basket. With a solid cast of role players — and the addition of Ennis — Villanova is as strong 1-4 as anyone in the league. The key will be Ochefu: Can he fill the shoes left by Yarou? If so, expect big things from this team.
Factoid: 26.1. Villanova led the nation last year by attempting 26.1 free throws per game. The Wildcats also led the nation by making 18.8 free throws per game.