For Villanova basketball coach Jay Wright, high expectations are the usual. For most teams, entering a season where they lose three key contributors (Javaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, and Dylan Ennis), a rebuilding process is expected; not when Wright is at the helm. Following the 2013-2014 season, Villanova lost their leading scorer James Bell. Many were not sure who would step up and be the leader that they required. Hilliard was always a second option in the Wildcat offense and many questions remained about his leadership ability. Hilliard immediately took the reigns and led the Wildcats to the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and a Big East title.
Losing Hilliard to graduation this year may prove to be challenging for the Wildcats, but the emergence of junior Josh Hart and senior Daniel Ochefu, along with the signing of the elite recruit, Jalen Brunson may prove otherwise. Hart, who won Big East Sixth Man of the Year, was Villanova’s second leading scorer at 10.1 points per game last season. Co-Big East Player of the Year, Ryan Arcidiacono, will score when Wright calls upon him, but it is not in his nature to search out for double-digit points on a daily basis. A stellar defender, and an even better distributor off the ball, the senior guard is effective in a different form than Hart and Ochefu. If one of those players are able to develop into a leading scorer, then expect Villanova to be at the forefront of Big East basketball in the year to come.
Point Guard: Ryan Arcidiacono
The common fan does not come to appreciate the senior guard from Philadelphia. He is not flashy. Highlight dunks and spot up three pointers just are not the form of Arcidiciano. He does not have some feel good comeback story of which the viewers and fans can relate. His tough and gritty style displays the overall theme of the Big East: Competition.
His 10.1 points per game are not able to carry a team to victory; neither are his 3.6 assists. Playing in a two or three guard system, Arcidiacono shines on the other end of the court. With the second highest Defensive Rating in the Big East according to Kenpom.com, he was dominant on that end of the court. As a Co-Player of the Year in the Big East, Arcidiacono dominated opponents from the defensive side of the ball.
Shooting guard: Jalen Brunson
Already a projected "one and done" candidate, it is only fitting that Brunson will follow in the footsteps of Kyle Lowry, Randy Foye, Scottie Reynolds, and other elite guards who have taken reigns of Jay Wright’s program. As a top-20 recruit in almost every service that ranks high school basketball players, Brunson has dominated almost any competition thrown at him. At the FIBA U19 World Championships, Brunson looked dominant on the court, averaging 14.0 points while dishing out 5.6 assists and winning MVP awards. In Philadelphia, Brunson will bring that charisma and athleticism to an already talented backcourt. His addition to Jay Wright’s squad only cements Villanova’s history of robust guard play.
Small Forward: Josh Hart
Hart is one of the more fascinating players on this team. Even while playing less minutes than the starters, Hart was second in points per game and third in field goal percentage for those who played more than ten minutes a game. Yet even so, many did not even know his name when the Big East Tournament began. In the three games they played, he could not miss from outside, averaging over 60% from beyond the arc. With a Big East Tournament MVP to his name, Hart is ready to follow in the footsteps of wings in Villanova’s past, and take the next step towards becoming a leader. Scoring at the rate he did in early March is improbable, but he proved that he has the ability to score at a high rate in this conference. Already a talented and distinguished player around the Big East, Hart has the potential to step into the national spotlight this coming year.
Power Forward: Kris Jenkins
At 6’6, Jenkins just is not tall enough to play the power forward position at any other school. At Villanova, or Small Ball University, Jay Wright masterfully threads undersized players into tough rebounding, physical, and energetic forwards that help drive the offense through rebounds and hard-hitting screens. Jenkins may not be the defender that Jay'Vaughn Pinkston was at this moment, but he is far more skilled offensively. He will help account for the offensive loss of Hilliard and Ennis through pick and pop plays. As a key bench player last year, Jenkins averaged 6 points in about 18 minutes a game. In a constant scoring attack that comes from multiple sources, Jenkins fits right in and will be a key part of Jay Wright’s plans in the coming season.
Center: Daniel Ochefu
Perhaps the most talented player on Villanova last year, Ochefu was not valued enough because of Jay Wright’s system. He is a stout rim protector and brought down a quarter of the Wildcats' rebounds. He shot over 64% from the field and was one of the only rim protectors for the Big East champions. Entering this season, expect his role to expand even further. He will be used for pick and rolls with the guard heavy lineup to help create more opportunities for Villanova’s perimeter attack. With another summer under his belt, expect Ochefu to be even more dominant next year.