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Big East Season Preview: Villanova Wildcats

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Do the Wildcats have what it takes to repeat as Big East Regular Season Champions? Is this the year Jay Wright's Wildcats returns to the Final Four? Eric Kelly and Adam Beletti tell us in our next edition of the Big East Season Preview series.

Do the 'Cats have what it takes to repeat as Champions?
Do the 'Cats have what it takes to repeat as Champions?
SB Nation

2013-14 Record: 29-5 (14-2), Big East Regular Season Champions.

Head Coach: Jerold "Jay" Wright, Jr., 408-234 (286-149 Villanova) .635 Career Winning Percentage. Recently ranked as the No. 19 (Link: ESPN - JAY WRIGHT) coach in the NCAA by ESPN.

Key Returnees: Ryan Arcidiacono, (9.9 PPG, 3.5 APG), Darrun Hilliard II (14.3 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.6 APG) Forward: JayVaughn Pinkston (14.1 PPg, 6.1 RPG), Daniel Ochefu, (5.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, 1.5 BPG) Josh Hart (7.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG) Dylan Ennis (5.1 PPG)

Departures: James Bell (14.4 PPG, 6.1 RPG), Tony Chennault (2.7 PPG, 1.8 APG)

Additions: Phil Booth, (No. 20 PG), Mikal Bridges (No. 20 SF) (Both as per ESPN)

Projected Starting Lineup: Ryan Arcidiacono, Dylan Ennis, Darrun Hilliard II, JayVaughn Pinkston, Daniel Ochefu

Mark Your Calendars

In Brooklyn, NY, for the Legends Classic on November 24: Vs. VCU, provides the first big showcase of a brutal nonconference slate for Villanova, with a second game taking place on November 25 vs. either Oregon or Michigan. Speaking of neutral court contests, a trip to Madison Square Garden to take on the Illinois Fighting Illini on December 9. This Illini team underperformed significantly in 2013, but they feature a high-scoring backcourt of Ahmad Starks, Kendrick Nunn and Rayvonte Rice. A final nonconference test will come in Philadelphia, PA, on December 20: vs. Syracuse at Wells Fargo Center, which will provide a clash of former rivals and give a true sense of what Villanova can expect heading into the New Year. Conference road games in Washington, D.C., on January 19: at Georgetown, and to Cincinnati, OH, February 28: at Xavier will provide real challenges for the experienced and likely several point favorite Wildcats.

Return to Glory

Taking advantage of their most cohesive line-up since 2009, the Villanova Wildcats gelled early in 2014 taking down then No. 2 Kansas and No. 23 Iowa at the Battle for Atlantis. After winning their first of two 2014 championships, the Wildcats kept a clean slate until dropping an eighteen point lead at Syracuse before a crowd of over 28,000 at the Carrier Dome. Not to be easily put down, Villanova rattled off another 18 wins to go with only 2 losses for the remainder of the season, enduring two drubbings at the hands of Dougie McBuckets and the Creighton Blue Jays. This was enough for Villanova to win its first regular season title since it took a share of the Big East title in 2006. The ‘Cats then struggled a bit in the post season, dropping a stunner to Seton Hall at MSG and, after being awarded a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they dropped a third round matchup to No. 7 seed UConn who was en route to blazing a path to the NCAA Championship not unlike Sherman through the South in 1865.

What Went Wrong Last Season

Short answer, not much. The Wildcats gelled, forming a team that scored, rebounded and defended as a team. A quick look at each of the ‘Cats’ losses will reveal one state instantly. In 4 of the 5 losses, Villanova shot below 40% in FG and 3PT. The only loss they shot better than 40% from the field, they allowed Doug McDermott to go for 39 points while Creighton shot 64.2% from the field and 60% from 3PT. Quite simply, they couldn’t stop Creighton from shooting the 3 and they couldn’t make baskets against Seton Hall or UConn in the post season.

Replacing James Bell

Replacing Senior Captain James Bell will not be easy. Do not underestimate the importance Bell had on defense last year, or his role as a leader in all facets of the game. Villanova will look for Dylan Ennis, Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins to step up and progress this year. All three players, in their second year of regular duty with the Blue and White, will be required to pick up their pace on defense and beyond the arc, which are two places at which all three are capable of contributing. The biggest question is, with Daniel Ochefu out in foul trouble or getting a breath, will someone be able to contribute by defending the 4 when Pinkston moves to the post? James Bell, at 6’6, 225, was a small, but capable defender when called upon to fill this role. Who of these three can contribute in that way? Most likely answer is, at this point, sophomore Josh Hart, the 6’5, small forward/guard out of Sidwell Friends in Washington, D.C. He was the Wildcats’ sixth man last season and has a capacity to be one of the better pure scorers in the conference. His stats last season won’t blow you away (7.8 ppg) but when he got his opportunities, he took advantage. The greatest example of this being the previously mentioned Big East Tournament game against Seton Hall in which Hart exploded for 18 points and kept Villanova in a game where no other Wildcat scored more than 11 points.

2014-15 Expectations

Expectations are extremely high for this team, and why not? Jay Wright and Co. are returning four of five starters from a team which lost only two games in conference last season and rolled to a regular season conference title. Beyond that, the ‘Cats are the only Big East team represented in the preseason AP Top-25 poll, and therefore are heavy favorites to take the conference’s regular season crown once again. To be honest, anything less would really be a disappointment for this team. Unless there are no significant injuries to a starter, look for this team to split its four marquee non-conference games and go 13-3 in conference play (with a loss to Georgetown, Xavier and maybe Seton Hall mixed in). Beyond that, it seems a realistic that this Nova team finishes the season with an Elite 8 appearance, with a Final Four birth not completely out of the possibility, but still not very realistic. This team is talented, but still not on the level of Kentucky’s and Duke’s of the world. One thing however the Duke’s and Kentucky’s don’t have is 3-4 years of chemistry, the Wildcats have this trait. It will be interesting to see which wins out in March.