The Villanova Wildcats’ last two seasons appear to mirror each other. In both years, Villanova was atop the Big East and nationally ranked. But, unfortunately for the Wildcats, they did not make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament in either. While many fans would be satisfied, if not elated, coming off of a 33-3 campaign, where their team dominated conference play by winning the regular season conference title and conference tournament, the consecutive short runs in March have left a bad taste in the mouths of Nova faithful. Jay Wright has built a successful program while going 319-152 in his 14 years at Villanova, including a trip to the 2009 Final Four. Many hope that Wright can lead his crew to another deep run in the 2015-16 season.
vs. Oklahoma, December 7th
The Wildcats will travel to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and face the Oklahoma Sooners on Dec. 7th 2015. The location and date are not a coincidence as the game will commemorate the 74th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Oklahoma returns four starters from last season’s Sweet 16 last run.
at Virginia, December 19th
On Dec. 19 Nova will travel to Charlottesville, Va. and face a program that was resurrected by head coach Tony Bennett. Bennett has rebuilt the Cavaliers by having the nation’s best scoring defense last season and should be a true road test for the Wildcats.
at Seton Hall, January 20th
While facing a team that went 6-12 in conference play during its 2014-15 campaign may not strike fear in the hearts of Villanova’s faithful, Seton Hall is not a team to be taken lightly. Remember, it was Seton Hall who upset Nova 66-61 in overtime on Jan. 3, 2015. Seton Hall did implode later in the season but still return Isaiah Whitehead and Big East Rookie of the Year Angel Delgado who could exploit Villanova’s lack of size this season.
Projected Starting Lineup and Statistics
Guard: Ryan Arcidiacono (10 PPG, 4 APG)
Guard: Josh Hart ( 12 PPG, 2 APG)
Guard: Phil Booth (12 PPG, 3 APG)
Forward: Kris Jenkins (7 PPG, 5 RPG)
Forward: Daniel Ochefu (12 PPG, 9.5 RPG)
6th Man: Jalen Brunson ( 8 PPG, 3 APG)
7th Man: Darryl Reynolds (4 PPG, 2 RPG)
The two incumbent starters, 2015 Big East Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu, will remain in the first five for Nova. With the graduation of JayVaughn Pinkston, expect Jenkins to take up most of the minutes at the 4 spot. One potential issue, while not a negative, is trying to divide minutes between guards Hart, Booth, and Brunson. While Hart and Booth only made 2 combined starts last year, each should be promoted to the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. Brunson has already received accolades before he has even played a single game by being named Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year. But since there are already experienced guards for the Wildcats, Brunson could be eased into his role. While at the beginning of the season Brunson will most likely come off the bench, it is safe to anticipate Brunson leaping into the starting five mid-way through the season. If Brunson develops into the projected star many scouts see him to be, Villanova could go small with a four guard lineup.
This would mean Kris Jenkins would come off the bench and Brunson would start. For the small lineup to be successful, Ochefu would have to be a dominant presence inside to ensure the lack of height is not exploited into a rebounding advantage for the opponent. While a small lineup is against conventional basketball strategy it is becoming popular after it worked for the 2015 NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.
Villanova should be in the top tier of the Big East and should have a national ranking in the teens. They return two starters in Arcidiacono and Ochefu and 6th man Josh Hart who should step into the starting lineup. Even though Hart only started in two games last year he was the 2nd leading scorer for the Wildcats. Kris Jenkins, who also played in all 36 games, but only started one, should also transition into the starting lineup. The player who could make the biggest jump for Nova will be Phil Booth. While Booth only averaged 5.8 points in 14.5 minutes per game, his shooting percentage was phenomenal last season(56.3% from the field and 48.3% from 3). The most heralded recruit for Wright’s staff this upcoming season is 5 star stud Jalen Brunson. While many of the guard spots will be taken by incumbents, Brunson should be able to rotate in and provide a breather for Arcidiacono, Hart, and Booth.
The biggest issue for the Wildcats will be depth. The projection is that Nova will only go 7 deep. This means they will have to stay healthy and out of foul trouble to be successful. The lack of depth will most likely come into play during tournament time because Big East tournament games run on consecutive days while the NCAA tournament games happen every other day. The games played in both the conference and NCAA tournament have the most significance and intensity. The seven man rotation could also start breaking down from the wear and tear of playing 30 plus games and some players running at a clip of 25 plus minutes per game. The emergence of an 8th or 9th man off of the bench would help solve this issue and allow the Wildcats to make a deep run into March.
Darrun Hilliard and Dylan Ennis are both gone from Villanova. They combined to take 34.9% (681 out of 1951) of the total shots by the Wildcats. They need to replace that workload and success rate. Expect many of those shots to go to former 7th man Phil Booth when he steps into a starting role and becomes a bigger part of the offense. The most important factor that will determine how much Booth produces will be the development of Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year, Jalen Brunson.
Photo courtesy of AM New York
-(1) Villanova faces (9) Alabama in the second round of the NCAA tournament