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Big East 2015-16 Season Preview: Villanova Wildcats

The champs are here. The champs are back. The champs are ready. Let's preview Villanova.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

2014-15 Record

33-3 (16-2 BIG EAST); won BIG EAST regular season championship. Won BIG EAST Tournament championship with win over Xavier. Lost to North Carolina State Wolfpack in Round of 32 in 2015 NCAA Tournament.


Jay Wright is entering his 15th season as head coach of the Villanova Wildcats. In the last two seasons, Wright has accumulated a 32-4 record against the BIG EAST and a 62-8 record in total. In his tenure in southeastern Pennsylvania, Jay has amassed a win percentage of .677 and a .633 mark in conference play, winning 319 games and 140 against BIG EAST opponents. Under Wright, the Cats have missed the NCAA Tournament just four times and just once since 2005, with 10 seasons of 20 wins or more.

Key Returnees

Kris Jenkins  (6.3 PPG, 2.0 RPG, .416 FG%, .372 3PT FG%, .780 FT%)

Josh Hart (10.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.5 APG, .515 FG%, .464 3PT FG%, .670 FT%)

Phil Booth (5.8 PPG, 1.4 APG, .563 FG%, .485 3PT FG%, .739 FT%)

Ryan Arcidiacono (10.1 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.1 SPG, .394 FG%, .372 3PT FG%, .813 FT%)

Daniel Ochefu (9.2 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 1.4 BPG, .644 FG%, .692 FT%)

Darryl Reynolds (1.4 PPG, 1.1 RPG, .714 FG%, .400 FT%)

Key Departures

Dylan Ennis (Transferred to Oregon)

Darrun Hilliard (Graduation)

JayVaughn Pinkston (Graduation)

Notable Additions

Jalen Brunson (5* Point Guard, Lincolnshire, IL)

Tim Delaney (3* Power Forward, Pitman, NJ)

Donte DiVincenzo (4* Shooting Guard, Wilmington, DE)

Meet Villanova's incoming recruits: Jalen Brunson Donte DiVincenzo Tim Delaney

Last Season at a Glance

Although they surprised a few with their run to the top of the conference in the 2013-14 season, many were ready for the Villanova Wildcats in 2014-15 to again be the class of the BIG EAST. Those preconceived notions would blossom into truth, as 'Nova dominated in BIG EAST play for the second consecutive season. The Wildcats went 16-2 for the second straight year in conference play leading to back-to-back regular season titles. This time around, the 'Cats added a BIG EAST Conference Tournament championship to their belt, their first in 20 years. Ryan Arcidiacono's terrific season led to the Wildcats guard earning the Co-BIG EAST Player of the Year award, sharing it with Providence's Kris Dunn.

Guard Josh Hart was named the Sixth Man of the Year and joining Hart and Arch on the podium was head coach Jay Wright who was tabbed as the BIG EAST Coach of the Year. Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard were members of the All-BIG EAST First Team, Hilliard a unanimous selection, while forward JayVaughn Pinkston and big man Daniel Ochefu were tabbed as Honorable Mentions.

Despite another terrific season, things soured for Jay Wright & Co. in the NCAA Tournament again. The 'Cats have not made the second weekend since the 2009 edition of The Big Dance, where they wound up in the Final Four. In their last five appearances, the Wildcats have won just three games, and fell shy of the second weekend this past year after losing to the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Matchup issues have plagued the 'Cats in recent years and it proved to be no different in 2015 as they suffered the same fate that they did versus eventual National Champion UConn in 2014.

Three Reasons for Optimism

1. The Guards: The staple of the program for what seems like the entirety of Jay Wright's tenure at 'Nova has been great guard play and that's no different this year. From Ryan Arcidiacono and Josh Hart, to newcomers Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo, all the way down to swingman Mikal Bridges and sophomore Phil Booth, Villanova is rich at the guard position again and it ought to pay serious dividends.

2. Familiarity: An old proverb says that "familiarity breeds contempt." I'd find it hard pressed to believe it when it comes to Villanova. There are so many returnees to this team that have led us to tabbing 'Nova as the conference favorite and a threat to make a big run in the NCAA Tournament this March. Arcidiacono, Hart, Kris Jenkins, Daniel Ochefu, and the likes of Darryl Reynolds and Phil Booth among others make this 'Cats team extremely formidable and it's all about their own familiarity.

3. The Prized Newcomer: 2015 commits Tim Delaney and Donte DiVincenzo are expected to be two terrific players when they eventually suit up for Villanova. Delaney suffered a hip injury a short while ago and likely won't be in the lineup for a few weeks, but DiVincenzo has already made waves for being a quality dunker and he should prove to be a quality piece.

But the biggest prize of all in the Class of '15 is Lincolnshire, Illinois' Jalen Brunson.

Brunson, who dominated the Illinois high school circuit and the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, is walking into the BIG EAST with a boatload of hype. He and Marquette power forward Henry Ellenson will likely be the two biggest gunners for the Rookie of the Year award and should be a treat to watch each time he steps on the floor.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

1. Forward Length: It's very tough to find holes on a team that has gone a combined 32-4 in conference play the last two seasons.

One that might cause some trouble is Villanova's lack of length. Daniel Ochefu stands at 6-foot-11, but other than he, there are no players standing taller than 6-foot-9.

Now, that's not to say that this could trouble them defensively. With a similar lineup last year, 'Nova was very stout in almost every defensive metric there is to find.

And much of the BIG EAST plays relatively small but should they run into a team that can use their height to their advantage, it could lead to some matchup issues.

2. Can They Get Over the Hump?: I'm a little tired writing about this. But, from a fan perspective, one reason to be pessimistic is to question whether or not they get over the hump so to speak. Villanova hasn't made the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since their run tot he Final Four in the 2009 edition of The Big Dance.

They've been done in by the likes of North Carolina, Connecticut and North Carolina State in their last three appearances, and by 10-seeded Saint Mary's a few years back after being scared by 15-seeded Robert Morris. Making the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament isn't exactly easy.

But to be the best, you have to beat the best. In the words of Ric Flair, "To be the man, you've gotta beat the man," and 'Nova will be looking to do just that.

3. The League Gets Tougher: Just like with Georgetown, we'll be writing about how the rest of the league looks right now. And frankly, everyone sans St. John's has gotten better. Butler added nice pieces with the likes of transfer Tyler Lewis and returns Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones.

Creighton has added key pieces. Georgetown's returning just about everybody. Xavier, too. Marquette has a loaded freshman class. The Friars boast the best player in the nation.

Expecting 'Nova to go 16-2 again in BIG EAST play may be asking too much, but then again, perhaps there's a damn good reason why everyone is thinking so highly of the Wildcats in 2015. 

Best Case Scenario

Villanova bullies its way through the BIG EAST again en route to back-to-back-to-back regular season championships (The Tom Emanski special!). In the nonconference portion of the schedule, 'Nova takes aim at the NIT Preseason Tip-Off and takes the crown, and goes on the road to Charlottesville and wins a huge game over the Virginia Cavaliers, splitting their big nonconference games against UVA and the Oklahoma Sooners.

The 'Cats then march on to win the BIG EAST Tournament for the second consecutive season, earning another No. 1 seed. Jay Wright & Co. get over the hump thanks to their bevy of guards as Arcidiacono and super freshman Jalen Brunson follow in the footsteps of great 'Nova guards in the past and become too hot to handle and too cold to hold (RIP Macho Man) and carry Villanova to the second weekend. The 'Cats get great production against the elite of college hoops and make it to the Final Four in Houston, solidifying themselves as one of the top programs in the country and give the BIG EAST a much-needed boost in the court of public opinion.

Worst Case Scenario

The Wildcats take care of business in the nonconference portion of their schedule, but get mollywhopped at the John Paul Jones Arena by the ACC's Virginia and slip up versus Oklahoma in Hawaii. Then, the BIG EAST season doesn't go quite as expected as the toughness of the BIG EAST takes 'Nova away from winning the league for the third consecutive season. Their chances isaresunk on the final day by Georgetown - who wins the league after their core of returnees performs extremely well.

Subsequently, in the BIG EAST Tournament, the Wildcats are upset in the semifinals and they fail to go back-to-back. Armed with a season that leads to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, they net themselves a terrible matchup in the 5/12 game, leading to the unsurprising and expected token 5-12 upset as 'Nova again fails in the court of public opinion and in the NCAA Tournament as well.

2015-16 Outlook

Amidst all the hullabaloo and the talk about Villanova's postseason failures, there's a reason why Villanova is the prohibitive favorite in the BIG EAST this year. They arguably boast more talent than anyone around the league and stack up well with the rest of the country too. They are ranked No. 11 in both the preseason Associated Press and USA TODAY polls, and are No. 5 in the preseason rankings, too.

The Wildcats were extremely efficient on the offensive and defensive side of the ball last year. They limited teams to 92.8 points per 100 possessions, and scored 120 points per 100 possessions. Those numbers were ranked No. 13 and No. 4 respectively in the nation, with the Division 1 average being 102 points per 100 possessions. With regards to the four factors, 'Nova performed excellently in eFG%, Turnover%, Offensive Rebounding%, and Free Throw Rate. And on the basics -- 3-point, 2-point, and free throw percentage, block percentage and steal percentage - the 'Cats were great on both sides of the ball as well.

Why's all that important? Because 'Nova is returning quite a lot this year from that team. The 2015-16 Wildcats bring back 59 percent of minutes, 56 percent of points, 54 percent of their field goal attempts, 58 percent of their 3-point field goal makes, and 62 percent of their rebounds from a season ago. That could certainly mean that, on the flip side, they lost almost 40 percent in each category if you are to play Devil's Advocate.

But with the additions of Brunson, DiVincenzo, and the expectancy of Phil Booth, Darryl Reynolds, Kris Jenkins and even BIG EAST Sixth Man of the Year Josh Hart allotting more minutes in the upcoming campaign, it could translate very well in their favor and tip the scales so that the impact is hardly felt by the departures of Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston and Dylan Ennis.

That's not to say that those losses won't be felt. Hilliard, Pinkston and Ennis were all extremely terrific players. Hilliard especially, who was terrific and experienced tremendous growth as a player under Jay Wright in his time in southeastern Pennsylvania.

"Bethlehem Steel" as he was called, Hilliard is arguably one of the best guards in the Jay Wright Era at 'Nova, as was Pinkston at the forward position and Ennis too.

But Wright is one of the best coaches in the nation and has this team very well-prepared for the departures of that terrific trio. The depth that this team has is almost unparalleled and on the whole, it's not a stretch and is more of a fact that Villanova has one of the best backcourts in the nation from top to bottom.

They also have one of the best big men in the country as well in 6-foot-11 Daniel Ochefu who was an absolute machine at scoring and rebounding the basketball last year. If we are to believe that trends will continue, then Ochefu is poised for a tremendous senior season.

Point blank: Villanova is not only the best team in the BIG EAST, but one of the best in the nation, period. There's little reason to believe that they won't dominate again in 2015 as they pursue their third-straight league championship and maybe, just maybe, a lot more to go along with it this time.