The 2013-14 campaign for the Villanova Wildcats marked a return to prominence for a team that hadn't made it past the round of 64 in the Big Dance 2010. The Wildcats tore through their new Big East Conference, beating every team they faced, except Creighton twice, as they reestablished themselves as one of the Beasts of The Big East.
This season's team really made its mark on the offensive side of the ball. After not averaging more than 72.8 ppg in the prior three seasons, ‘Nova really found its offensive vibe this year, finishing second in the Big East in scoring (78.5 ppg). The Cats were also extremely efficient from the field, ranking 26th nationally in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings, at 113.8 points per 100 possessions. A lot of this came from having three scorer very reliable scorers who all averaged above 14 ppg (James Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston). Therefore, and this was the case all season, when one player was struggling another would come in and take his place. Really, the season was split into three sections, based on who was the best scorer at the time. The first section was devoted to Pinkston, who got off to a hot start, in which he reached double figures in 14 of his first 16 games. Then, the middle section was ruled by Bell, who over a 10 game stretch from Jan. 18 to Feb. 18 averaged a scorching 19.9 ppg as he cemented himself as the team's leading scorer. Finally, the last section was all about Darrun Hilliard, who got hot at the end, averaging 16.6 ppg down the stretch to lead the Cats into March Madness.
The one place that seemed to hold back the Wildcats, especially in the NCAA Tournament, was the lack of depth beyond the starting five. ‘Nova ranked only 167th nationally in bench minutes, and by the end of the season the lack of bench production really showed. It was most prevalent in the last game of the season, in the Round of 32 matchup against UCONN. In that contest, the Wildcats' bench only managed three points, on a late and utterly meaningless 3-pointer from Kris Jenkins. One of the biggest factors in making a deep run into March is having a deep bench that can be trusted to produce, and moving forward, that's one area that will really need to improve.
Regardless, this season's campaign will be remembered as one of the most successful, yet one in which so much more could've been accomplished. Here are some quick hitters on some of the best areas of 2013-14, along with a look forward at what's to come next season.
2013-14 Record: (29-5). The 29 wins by this year's team are the second most in program history behind the 2008-09 squad that reached the Final Four.
Biggest Victory: November 29, 2013 vs. #2 Kansas 63-59. It could be said that this win really set the tone for such a successful regular season. At the time, the Wildcats were still unranked and no one nationally though anything of the team, due to the absence of any impressive victories. That all changed in this game, as Ryan Arcidiacono hit a game-winning shot with 10.1 seconds left to propel Villanova to the monumental upset in the Battle 4 Atlantis. ‘Nova would carry this momentum the way to a championship in the Bahamas. As a result, the next week the Cats entered the top-25 rankings (#14) for the first time this season, and would remain in the polls the rest of the season.
Toughest Loss: January 20,2014 vs. Creighton 96-68. Going into this game, the Villanova basketball team was riding high. The Cats were 16-1, ranked No. 4 in the nation and were rolling through the new Big East Conference. Then Creighton came to town. In a game that would be a sign of things to come in the regular season, the BlueJays rolled Jay Wright and Co. to the tune of a Big East record 21 3-pointers. The game was over within the first five minutes, and it left everyone within the program shell-shocked following a blowout victory. Fortunately, Villanova would recover and win every game the rest of the regular season...except a 101-80 loss at Creighton. The BlueJays seemed to be Wildcat kryptonite this season, and Creighton was the only team that stood between ‘Nova and utter Big East domination this season.
Biggest Accomplishment: Winning the outright Big East regular season title and earning a No.2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Coming into this season, Villanova was projected to finish fourth in the new Big East Conference, behind Marquette, Creighton and Georgetown. Instead, the team went 16-2 in conference play, and secured its first outright regular season conference title in 32 years. The squad also earned a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance since 2010. Now a lot of critics say that this success was due to a weaker Big East the remained after realignment, but I tend to disagree. Villanova finished the season fifth in the RPI, and also played a total of 12 games (about one-third of its season) against NCAA Tournament teams. Also, if you look up and down the roster, this was not an overly talented team. As of now, I don't see anyone on this year's roster that is bound for the NBA. Jay Wright just did a fabulous job taking a team of average to above-average talent players and turning them into a top-10 team.
Team MVP: Senior guard James Bell. This season was really a coming out party for the lone senior in the starting lineup. He rose to the challenge and was really the driving force for this season's team. He ended up almost doubling his scoring average from last season, and led the team in scoring (14.4 ppg). He also finished tied for first on the team in rebounding (6.1 rpg) despite being a guard that hadn't averaged more than 4.2 rpg coming into this season. Bell did struggle offensively down the stretch, but he was still named an All-Big East First Team player, the first for Villanova since Scottie Reynolds in 2010.
Looking Forward to Next Season: Despite this season not ending how many Villanova supporters wanted it to, the future looks bright for Villanova basketball. Despite loosing Bell to graduation, the Wildcats are returning 77% of their scoring and 77.9% of their minutes from this season's team. They are also bringing back four of the five starters from this year, and most likely Josh Hart will step in and fill the void left by Bell. The Cats also signed two ESPN Top 100 recruits for next season: four-star small forward Mikal Bridges from Malvern, Pa., and four-star point guard Phil Booth from Baltimore, Md to bolster the Wildcats' bench.