#8 – Villanova Wildcats College Basketball Preview & Predictions

Even with the loss of Reynolds, Nova is looking mighty good this year
When you consider what the Villanova Wildcats (25-8, 13-5 Big East) have to deal with, the loss of three major contributors from last season, you can see why there’s a disparity amongst those evaluating andwriting about the Big East concerning where they will finish—first, secondor third. One thing just about everyone agrees with is that this team is a top 25 performer. Last year, the Wildcats tied for second in their conference and then went two and out at the Big Dance as they lost to St. Mary’s 75-68. This season, there appears to be enough returning talent and a few new guys to make this a club that has the potential to go deep into the NCAA Tournament.

Forward/center Mouphtaou Yarou (6-10, 250 lbs., SO, #13, 4.5 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.6 apg, 15.0 mpg, .583 FG, .000 3PT, .706 FT) was diagnosed with Hepatitis B last November and that resulted in his missing seven weeks of the season. But once Yarougot into it, he slowly proved to be a go-to guy with a keen inside shot. In limited action last season, his offensive reboundpercentage was 12.7%, defensive rebound percentage stood at 14.7% and block percentage came in at 7.8%. Those were some of the highest numbers on the team. This season a lot more is expected from him on both ends of the court.

Last season Antonio Pena (6-8, 235 lbs., SR, #0, 10.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 24.9 mpg, .577 FG, .000 3PT, .696 FT) was in the center spot when Yarou was not. This year, he moves over to the power forward spot, which is his more natural position. Along with being a fine inside scorer, Pena was a dynamic rebounder, garnering a defensive rebound rate of 21.0% (130th). His 10.5 PPG and 7.0 RPG were the best stats of his college career. Now that he’ll be sharing the court with Yarou, it will be interesting to see if Pena can duplicate or even exceed last season’s numbers.

The other forward spot will most likely go to freshman JayVaughn Pinkston. The 6-7, 235-pound McDonald’s All-American arrives with starting potential, that is if he can get conditioned enough to stay in the starting mix. He brings quickness, strength and a very reliable midrange jumper. In his senior year in high school, he averaged 25 points and 13 rebounds. There’s a lot of potential in Pinkston.

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The loss of two key backcourt players, Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding, means that the team has to make up for a total of 25.5 PPG, 8.0 APG and 2.9 SPG. They are expecting senior point guard Corey Fisher (6-1, 200 lbs., SR, #10, 13.3 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.9 apg, 27.0 mpg, .447 FG, .396 3PT, .770 FT) to continue to perform at a peak level. Fisher, who is versatile enough to play the small forward spot, is a dynamic outside shooter who can drive to the rim. His assist-to-turnover ratio is close to 2-1. His assist rate of 27.5% placed him 151st nationally.

Swingman Corey Stokes (6-5, 220 lbs., SR, #24, 9.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 0.9 apg, 26.0 mpg, .416 FG, .383 3PT, .873 FT) will start at the shooting spot. Last season, Stokes overall offensive rating of 117.7 put him 102nd. He’s an excellent shot who should be able to score more than last season’s average of 9.5 PPG. The team needs more from him.

Nova has a wealth of talent coming off the bench to rotate into the front and back. Sophomore Maurice Sutton (6-11, 215 lbs., SO, #25, 1.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.1 apg, 10.3mpg, .415 FG, .000 3PT, .545 FT) proved to be the team’s best shot blocker last year. Although not much of an offensive threat, he can be used on “D.” Isaiah Armwood (6-7, 205 lbs., SO, #34, 2.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.2 apg, 11.0 mpg, .472 FG, .500 3PT, .606 FT) saw limited playing time but provided quality minutes. His inability to play in last year’s tournament due to in jury hurt Nova. He’s a key role player.

In the backcourt, 6-5 freshman guard James Bell is an able transition player. He brings valuable athleticism and is a good fit with the Villanova system. Dominic Cheek (6-6, 185 lbs., SO, #23, 4.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.4 apg, 13.5 mpg, .453 FG, .310 3PT, .654 FT) may be the team’s sixth-man. The sophomore is a good shooter and a fine rebounder. The backup at point will be Maalik Wayns (6-1, 185 lbs., SO, #2, 6.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 15.0 mpg, .434 FG, .315 3PT, .814 FT). Wayns is a fine shot who scored in bunches last season despite seeing just 15.0 MPG. A natural at the point, he is also the team’s quickest player. He will see more minutes this season.

The Cats were a solid offensive team, earning an efficiency mark of 116.6, putting them 12th in the nation. Their effective field goal percentage was a solid 52.3% (43rd) and their offensive rebound percentage was 37.6% (30th). When it came to shooting they were ranked 13th on foul shots, hitting 75.5%. How important was their foul shooting? It generated 24.1% of their points, which was 43rd nationally. They were also very good from downtown as they knocked in 37.3% (50th).

Overall, the Cats were a sound defensive team with a grade of 94.0 when it came to efficiency. That put them 62nd nationally. They were good on steals, picking 10.8% (86th) and better on blocks, swiping away 11.6% (53rd). Opponents hit 45.5% of their twos, which gave the Tigers a ranking of 79th. From downtown, opponents also struggled a bit, putting in 33.6%, which rated the “D” 140th.

For head coach Jay Wright (325-184 in 16 years, 203-99 in nine years with Villanova), who won Big East Coach of the Year honors in 2006 and 2009, his nine years with the Tigers have been very successful. In that time, the team has been to the Big Dance six times, getting to the Sweet 16 four andthe Elite Eight two.  In his first three years, Nova went to the NIT, making it to the quarterfinals twice. This season, Wright definitely wants to makeup for the team’s performance in last year’s NCAA Tournament, when as the number two seed they were out after the second round. In order to do this, he’ll be stressing consistency on defense and sharing the wealth on offense. He’s in a good place in that he’s coaching a team that is as good as any in the Big East.

Nova’s two ands our performance last season was a disappointment. This was especially true because they had made it to the Final Four, Elite Eight and Sweet 16 in three of the past four years. This team is back on track to make it to the Elite Eight. At least, the potential is there.

The Wildcats, who enter the season with a national ranking of eighth, bring a good mix of vets and new players to the court. There’s athleticism and scoring chops. They will definitely put points on the board. The key will be their ability to play defense. They have the potential to do so. The ability to apply consistent defensive pressure will give them the upper hand. With six consecutive 20-win seasons to their credit, the Cats will most likely make it seven and will be competitive when it comes to winning first in the Big East.

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