Monday, November 2, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Villanova Wildcats

Too Busy for the Details?
The seniors who departed from the Wildcat's Final Four squad have left large gaps to fill in 2010. Not so much the glamor stuff, the high arcing 3s, the end-to-end races with an almost arrogantly understated layout at the bucket, the lane drives, but rather the grunt work, chasing down rebounds, setting picks, finishing the seeing-eye entry pass with a 2 (or an and-one). Most of a very experienced, if undersized, front court has departed, and Coach Wright has some rebuilding (or reloading? -- see Significant Additions below) to do. With a returning nucleus of Scottie Reynolds (3rd Team All-Big East), Corey Fisher (Big East 6th Man), dead-eye wing man Corey Stokes and all purpose glue guy Reggie Redding (after he completes his Fall Semester suspension), Coach Wright's job may be less brick-and-mortar and more finishing touches...if everything pans out. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
The returning percentages hint heavily at which positions the staff will have to replace this season. Note the drop in minutes, combined with the relatively high return of 3 point field goals (and very low returning percentage of offensive rebounding) -- the staff is not looking for perimeter players this off season. If some of the returning numbers resemble those from 2008 (defensive & total rebounds), the expectations are a good deal higher.


Villanova returns more minutes than they did in 2008, an especially dicey season that saw a 5 game skid and a 9-9 Big East finish. The biggest difference between the two seasons is the large percentage of returning senior minutes in 2010. In 2008 the returning nucleus was largely juniors and sophomores, this season the returning nucleus is seniors and juniors. Most of the Wildcat's perimeter game returns, though it has been a declining part of their offense. For outside shooters the 'Cats will need offensive rebounding. The greatest need area they have to replace with the departure of Cunningham, Anderson and (especially) Shane Clark (a Top 300 offensive rebounder according to Ken Pomeroy).

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg115.022110.261114.336
Overall DRtg89.61591.73489.118
Big East ORtg110.03100.312102.46
Big East DRtg101.04100.2599.59
Four Factors --
All Off. eFG%50.810049.119648.8220
All Off. TOv%18.87020.414219.989
All Off. OReb%36.55236.06139.122
All Off. FTA/FGA41.94038.910741.755
All Def. eFG%47.38951.122348.294
All Def. TOv%21.411323.44823.160
All Def. OReb%29.94931.29632.196
All Def. FTA/FGA38.823046.432242.0262
Four Factors --
BE Off. eFG%51.9646.71347.011
BE Off. TOv%19.21020.51021.113
BE Off. OReb%35.4734.6541.32
BE Off. FTA/FGA44.9137.4840.94
BE Def. eFG%49.51049.9949.410
BE Def. TOv%21.8222.8221.62
BE Def. OReb%32.8732.8830.43
BE Def. FTA/FGA39.71451.41646.616
All Gms Cons19.112119.54220.098
All Gms Luck+.013110+.02687-.046266

Villanova's defense has kept them in ball games when the offense has been slow to start. Last season was the exception, and Villanova was able to climb back into the first quartile. Note that shooting has been the lagging indicator on offense. Bringing their shooting up to a middling 51.9% (eFG%) provided a huge boost to the Wildcat offense. On defense, the combination of forced turnovers and defensive rebounding largely compensated for mediocre shot defense.

For the Record...
Big East1350.722990.500970.563
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 5NCAA/Rnd 3NCAA/Rnd 1

The Wildcat's Nucleus
If the entire back court (and wing) are available next season, Coach Jay Wright still has to find replacements for graduated front court players Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark. Junior forward Antonio Pena will be available, and having played two seasons in and out of the starting lineup, he should be ready to step into a bigger role. Red shirt freshman Maurice Sutton practiced all through 2008-09. Though he logged no game time, Sutton did provide a lot of energy from his spot on the bench.

On Offense

The returning players can provide offense as the numbers suggest. Though only Stokes had an eFG above 50.0, the others provided assists and rebounds. And if they did not always hit their shots, they surely made it to the free throw line.

On Defense
Scottie Reynolds80.28.220.419.30.42.8
Reggie Redding71.913.018.823.62.22.2
Corey Fisher60.78.122.619.70.32.9
Corey Stokes56.913.
Antonio Pena42.817.210.623.13.60.9

Reggie Redding (yellow highlight) has been suspended from playing in Fall semester games. While he is can attend class and participate in team practices he is prohibited from traveling with the team and participating in games. He will be restored to full status on December 18.

Pena is the best rebounder among the returnees, but the Wildcats will need a stronger presence on the boards if they hope to maintain their standing among the conference's best teams. Stokes has improved on the offensive and defensive boards each season on the Main Line; the Nova Nation can only hope the trend continues. The newcomers will have to provide some help, if not on offense (very unlikely given the presences of Taylor King and Dominic Cheeks), certainly on the boards.

Significant Additions
Coach Wright may have to cope with the departure of 3 front court mainstays, but has replacements in the form of 4 Top 100 true freshmen, 2 of whom will find playing time in the front court, a red shirt freshman #4/#5 and a transfer, 6-6, 230 lbs #3/#4 Taylor King, of Mater Dei HS by way of Duke. King, a McDonald's All American out of High School with a reputation as a scorer, will be eligible in the fall of 2009. Maurice Sutton, a 6-11, 215 lb forward from Upper Marleboro, Maryland took the red shirt year and, along with King, practiced with the team as he got control over his academics. If those two put their practice year to good use, they learned how to rebound. Rebounding under both boards is more valuable to the staff at this point than shooting. Of the freshmen, 6-9 Mouphtaou Yarou, a 245 lb #4/#5 graduate of Montrose Christian in Maryland will be relied on early and often. He will most likely team with some combination of Pena, King, Sutton and true freshmen recruit Isaiah Armwood, a 6-8 #3/#4 also out of Montrose Christian in Maryland, to form the front court for 2010 and beyond. While the Wildcats are talented and well stocked in the back court and on the wing, given their talent level, both #2 guard Dominic Cheek, a 6-6 wing out of St. Anthony's in Jersey City, NJ and 6-0 #1 Malik Wayns, a Philly guard who graduated from Roman Catholic, is expected to contribute from the beginning.

Explode If...
1. Mouphtau Yarou is able to effectively anchor the defense in the low post. The Wildcats have not had a shot blocker since Malik Allen in the late 1990s. Shot defense, especially versus bigger players has been a problem. Yarou has to provide shot blocking, rebounding (and an outlet pass?) without slowing the 'Cats down on offense.
2. Reynolds and Fisher become more consistent on offense. Scottie had off nights, as did Fisher, but rarely did both simultaneously. Against everyone but North Carolina, Cunningham was able to bridge the performance "lapse". With consistency from their back court and options on wing and in the front court in the form of Stokes, Pena, King, Cheek and Redding, there will be enough options to keep opposing defenses off balance.

Implode If...
1. Integrating new players in large numbers can be time consuming and tricky. The 2008 squad flirted with disaster before a late season surge creditted to a couple of bench players righted the ship. The staff needed time to find the right combination of players to build the rotation around.
2. Villanova's defense has a reputation for being difficult to grasp because, though implemented as a man-to-man, works to shut down scoring inside of 15 feet by closing off the lane with secondary help and selective switching on screens and picks. When 2 or more players are in "learning mode" they can blow coverage and leave opposing shooters (particularly on the wing) very open. A long learning curve could produce a very ugly sequence of games, similar to the five game skid during 2008 season.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
Villanova faces George Mason in the 1st round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, to be followed by either Dayton or Georgia Tech. The 3rd round opponent will come from a pool that includes Kansas State and Mississippi. Projected by consensus to be a Top 10 Team going into next season, which implies a #1 or #2 seed in the 2010 NCAA Tournament (preseason Coaches and AP polls ranks the 'Cats #4 and #6 respectively). The Big 5 series always promises to have one or two very competitive opponents. La Salle, a team with active wings, a backcourt that features senior Rodney Green and a newcomer at center, Aric Murray, will close out November with what promises to be very competitive game. December also has an early match up with Maryland in the BB&T Classic in Washington DC. and the last two Big 5 opponents (St. Joseph's & Temple). The schedule's biggest challenges will come from the slate in Puerto Rico, Maryland and (as always) the Big 5. Coming to the threshold of the Big East season undefeated would be good, but not necessarily conclusive, signal that the team will secure a #1/#2 seed by season's end. A loss however, would not preclude the Wildcats earning a #1/#2 either. Among the OOC opponents, Maryland and the 2nd or 3rd round opponent in the Puerto Rico Classic should prove to be the most challenging tests. In the Big East, either Temple (Fran Dunphy teams are always tough on the 'Cats) or La Salle could hang the first loss on Villanova.

Villanova will open the Big East season exactly where they did last season -- in Milwaukee, facing the Golden Eagles. Marquette hung a 7 point opening loss on the 'Cats, with a less experienced team the 'Cats may be able to extract a measure of revenge. This is a game they should take if they are, as a consensus of the Big East coaches and the sportswriters who voted in the AP poll suggest, the favored team in the conference this season. Villanova has eight conference games in January (four at home and four on the road), with the second eight coming in February (again 4 & 4, home & away) and the last two to open March (away then home). The first three conference games may be the easiest run of the regular season as the 'Cats face Marquette twice (away then home) and host DePaul at the Pavilion. 3-0 to start the season would be the best case, and pretty much what the Nova Nation expects. Other January road games include stops in Louisville (ouch) and New York City (St. John's at the Garden), two that could cause problems for the inexperienced Wildcat front court, and Rutgers (revenge for the loss at the RAC in 2008?). The Wildcats will host Georgetown and Notre Dame in addition to the aforementioned Marquette and DePaul. The Hoyas beat the Wildcats late last season in a Wachovia game. The two will meet there again on January 17th, a rare Sunday game that I am sure many in the Nova Nation will look forward to. Starting February 8-0 in conference is probably unrealistic, especially with an unsettled front court, but Villanova's Big East schedule is back end loaded this season, so 6-2 (or anything shorter on wins) would be cause for concern. February will not be kind. For Villanova, the road will pass through Washington, Morgantown, Pittsburgh and Syracuse in February. The 'Eers drubbed the 'Cats in Morgantown last season on a dreary Friday night in mid February. Let's hope history does not repeat. If Villanova has done well at the Verizon Center (except the last time they played the Hoyas there), the Peterson Center has been a nightmare (on the scale of the Coliseum). 2-2 on the road in February would be about right. Villanova should prevail in the four home games, though the Pirates have the capacity to surprise, especially if they are hot and the 'Cats are napping. March's two games, at Cincinnati's Fifth Third and back home to host West Virginia are a television executive's dream. If the Wildcats are in the middle of a conference title scramble (they should be), putting them on the road against the Bearcats should, with the title storyline playing against position matchups (Reynolds versus Vaughn, Stokes versus Stephenson), generate a larger than fan-base audience. And if Villanvoa and West Virginia are within a game of each other (and in a wrestling match for the #1 seed in New York City), the Wach will be packed to rafters. Even with a down season conference-wide (which means quite a few teams clustered around the 0.500 mark), I suspect the conference winner will need at least 15 wins to take the #1 seed. That last game (if all goes according to script) will most likely be Villanova's 15th win.

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