The Villanova Wildcats finished last season with their worst record during Jay Wright's 11-year tenure as head coach, also missing out on the NIT or NCAA Tournament for the first time in his regime. Villanova loses its top two scorers from last year, but this could be a case of addition by subtraction as I expect the Wildcats to be a middle of the pack Big East squad.
Starting point guard Maalik Wayns and wing Dominic Cheek both left Villanova a year early to enter the NBA Draft and ended up not being selected. (Great decision guys) The Wildcats are a team that has thrived in recent years because of its strong backcourt play, but Villanova now faces a changing of the guard. (Pun intended)
Likely to take over at the point for Wayns is Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault, who received a waiver from the NCAA and becomes immediate eligible. The Philadlphia native returns home to bring some needed experience to the backcourt. He will be pushed by sophomore Ty Johnson, who is definitely more of a floor general than scorer, and highly-touted freshman Ryan Arcidiacono.
Wright also picked up a key transfer in Rice point guard Dylan Ennis, who must sit out this season per NCAA rules as well. His addition for the 2013-14 season will give Villanova a skilled guard capable of contributing in just about every area of the game and give Wright the option to use more of a guard heavy lineup.
James Bell will be asked to pick up the scoring slack left behind by Cheek on the wing. Bell, an athletic, physical off-guard could be poised for a breakout season now that it will be his time to shine. Sophomores Darrun Hillard and Achraf Yacoubou should see larger roles with Hillard likely to take over as the starting shooting guard. Croatian shooter Mislav Brzoja could become a source of instant offense off the bench as well. It will be interesting to see how the rotation plays out on the wing, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Chennault, Arcidiacono, and Bell emerge as the main trio.
The Wildcats have a solid one-two punch up front with Mouphtaou Yarou and Jayvaughn Pinkston. Yarou has steadily improved his offensive game during his time at Villanova, but is still most effective as a rebounder and physical defender down low. Pinkston is a tough matchup for opposing defenses due to his combination of strength and skill on the offensive end. He showed glimpses midway through last season, but disappeared and was a non-factor too often. Consistent production will be key for his development this year.
The loss of transfer Markus Kennedy, who left for SMU, opens up opportunity off the bench for Maurice Sutton and freshman Daniel Ochefu. Sutton played well late last season, relying on his length and athleticism, though his lack of strength and low basketball IQ continues to hinder his effectiveness. Ochefu is also long and athletic, but is fairly skilled as a scorer and should factor into the frontcourt rotation right away.
The Wildcats find themselves entering a season with low expectations, which is something new during the Wright era. With a rather young roster that has plenty of room to grow from last year's disappointing season, it'd be insane to think a massive turnaround is imminent for Villanova; at least for the 2012-13 campaign.
Player to Watch: James Bell, G/F
Villanova enters this season without a proven scoring guard returning for the first time in several years. This is where Bell will need to emerge. He can stroke it from deep, but is also explosive at the rim and needs. Bell just needs to live up the hype he had when he joined the Wildcats program out of high school if the team is going to turn things around this year.