Looking back at last year, you could say that the Villanova men's basketball team’s season was a success. They finished the season with a 33-3 record, managed to hold a top five ranking for the majority of the year and had a number one seed in March Madness. Usually, that would be enough for most programs. But not with Jay Wright and his Wildcats, who have been a marquee basketball team for the better part of these past decades.
With a number of tournament appearances and players sent to the next level, Villanova has proven it can recruit and play with the best in college basketball.
This years rotation should pick up where they left off and carry on the Nova legacy. Even after losing some key guys to graduation, this Wildcat team shows no signs of letting up with some of the young pieces they have contained.
NBA hopefuls, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and center Daniel Ochefu leave this team in great hands because of their leadership and strong play. Both of these players know what coach Wright expects out of them and the program. And honestly, this team will only go as far as this inside out combo can go. Their team success will also translate into their draft stock, just as much as their personal play. Ochefu will probably stick in the NBA, while Arcidiacono should enjoy a lucrative career overseas, but this season will be really important.
The supporting cast may also be better than in past years. The backcourt rotation is solid and the frontcourt is very versatile. Out of all the new faces that will be making a bigger contribution this year, Phil Booth should be interesting to watch. The rising sophomore will be the next up in great Nova guards if he sticks around. He is a smart point guard that can play some shooting guard as well.
Arcidiacono and Booth could be one of the Big East's best backcourts. Booth shot a remarkable 56% from the field and 48% from three point land last year, according to ESPN.com. This may allow him to play off of the ball more often, allowing Arcidiacono to handle the one. But after a year of learning on the job, expect Booth to step in and play a starting role this year.
The wildcard has to be highly touted freshman Jalen Brunson. The 6-foot-2 guard has the potential to be a superstar guard when it's said and done. He is a crafty scorer and playmaker and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the old three guard lineup with Booth, Arcidiacono, and the freshman. Although Brunson is not a freakish athlete he is very sneaky and successful. Just check out his recent Gold Medal MVP award at the FIBA U19 event. And most importantly, he is a big shot taker and big shot maker.
In addition, raining Big East Sixth Man of the Year, Josh Hart, should be a nice option off the bench for the Wildcats as well. He has the chance to compete for the starting shooting guard job as well. He had a solid freshman season averaging 7.8 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game, but followed that up with an even better sophomore season. Last year, the rising junior put up 10 points per game and shot above 50% from the field. Hart simply plays like his last name: a high motor guy. He brings the toughness this team needs.
However, the mystery man of this team is swing man Mikal Bridges.
Bridges redshirted last year to get stronger and work on his game. However, the 6-foot-7 forward is a versatile swingman that could grow into a solid defender. After a year of getting his body and game right, hopefully Mikal can get some minutes. He should be a solid option off the bench and a four year player who will get better each season.
Lastly, there is combo forward Kris Jenkins. He is big body that has a nice touch and stretches the floor.
Jenkins will be given a bigger role in the offense this year after the departures. The rising junior will need to step up and space the floor for center Daniel Ochefu. If Jenkins can come in and average a solid 12-14 points with somewhere around 7 rebounds a game, that would be huge for this team.
Last year's squad lacked another scorer from the post to go with Ochefu. Jenkins might not be that guy, but he can definitely help and get you a bucket when your team needs it.
Overall this team should have another solid year and be competing in March as a three seed at worst. Anything but an elite eight finish will be a failure. Well, maybe that's wishing to high for this group. But if you know Villanova basketball, then you know anything is possible.
Photo courtesy of the News & Observer
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament