After a highly successful 2013-14 regular season, followed by a disappointing end in the postseason, the Villanova Wildcats are back with many of their stars from last season looking for postseason redemption. And while this team is talented, the regular season schedule is no cake walk, including four tough games in the non-conference slate. Therefore there are many reasons to be optimistic about this season's Wildcat team, but also some reasons to be skeptical as well.
3 Reasons for Pessimism
1. Lost leading scorer James Bell
It's never easy to replace a leading scorer, and at Villanova, that is no exception. Bell was the Cats leading scorer last season, averaging 14.4 ppg last season. It was easily his best season at Villanova, as he nearly doubled his scoring average from the season before. It finally looked like he emerged as the scoring threat coaches expected him to be, and it would've been huge to get him back for another season.
With the loss of Bell, the Cats not only are devoid of that scoring option, but also a team leader. Bell developed into one of the most consistent players on the team, and as the lone senior who made any sort of contribution, he naturally assumed a leadership role. Without him, it'll be interesting to see if anyone can step up and assume that role, especially if they go through a slump during the tough stretch in their non-conference schedule in November and December.
2. Tough non-conference schedule could set them back
Last season, a major provider of success for the Wildcats in conference play was set off by how well they did in conference play, including a huge upset win over then No. 2 Kansas in the Battle 4 Atlantis Challenge. This season, they have about four marquee games in the non-conference schedule, and if they don't succeed, it could really do a number on their confidence, and that's not the type of momentum you want going into conference play.
In a best case scenario, the ‘Cats will want to win at least three of these games, but if they go 2-2 or worse against Syracuse, Michigan/Oregon, VCU and Illinois, it could start a downward trend for this season's team.
3. Will they be able to win the national spotlight games that they didn't last season?
Last season will go down as one of the best regular seasons in program history, as 'Nova won the Big East regular season championship outright for the first time since 1985. But they didn't garner much respect, especially from the national media, because every time it seemed as if ‘Nova was in the spotlight (twice against Creighton, the Big East Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament), the Cats always seemed to come up short.
Now, with many players from last season's team returning, there seems to be a ton of pressure on this team, and they'll have a lot of early non-con opportunities to prove themselves on a national scale. The question I have is, can they do this season what they weren't able to do for the most part last season, or will it be the similar story where the Cats win all the games they are supposed to but fail to pick up the multiple marquee wins?
3 reasons for optimism
1. Returning four of five starters from last season
Outside of Bell, everyone else is back from last season's starting five that won that Big East regular season title. That means another season of development for highly regarded power forward JayVaughn Pinkston, as he attempts to improve upon the best offensive season of his career. That means another season of Darrun Hilliard, who has increased his scoring totals in every season since coming to Villanova. This means another season of big man Daniel Ochefu as he tries to match his defensive prowess with some offensive ability outside of the paint. And that means another season of Ryan Arcidiacono as he attempts to move even closer to the pure point guard the coaching staff expects him to be.
2. Josh Hart could replace James Bell's scoring and then some
Another player that should help soften the blow that the loss of Bell provides is sophomore shooting guard Josh Hart. Hart will more than likely step into Bell's position from last season, and he was the first guy off the bench last year. He's got a very pure offensive game and can put up points in bunches, and he showed a little bit of that ability last season. He obviously didn't get as many chances as he would've probably like, but that's not surprising with how many scorers were on the roster last season. When he did get a large share of shot attempts, he took advantage of it.
The game that stands out the most is ‘Nova's opening game loss against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament. While the big three was struggling offensively, Hart stepped up and scored 18 points to help keep Villanova in the game before Sterling Gibbs ended up hitting the game-winning shot. Now with an increased role this season, look for Hart to be one of the breakout stars in the Big East.
3. On paper, Villanova is the best team in the Big East
The Cats were one of the most talented, if not the most talented, all-around teams last season in the conference, and by far they have the most returning scoring threats from that campaign. One of the advantages of not having one player that far and away outscored the rest of the roster (ala Bryce Cotton and Doug McDermott) is that even though the leading scorer is gone, much of the talent is still there.
Meanwhile, the other top teams from last season, such as the aforementioned Providence and Creighton, lost their major source of offensive production. I think if you look on paper, as the reigning regular season conference champions and returning four of five starters, there's no reason the Wildcats don't win the conference again. Pending any possible injuries, I think the Cats cruise to another conference championship and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Are you confident in Villanova's chances to win the Big East again this season, or is there cause for concern? Let your voice be heard in the comments below.