The 2009-10 season for the Wildcats can really only be described as incredibly disappointing. After starting out the season 20-1, looking like a strong possibility for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a national championship contender while once again rallying behind the steady leadership of senior point guard Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats struggled down the stretch in Big East play, losing four of their last six (albeit against very tough competition), bowed out in their opening game in the Big East tournament, scraped by 15-seed Robert Morris in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, then got sent home early by St. Mary’s in the second round. Reynolds, in particular, struggled down the stretch, at least compared to his stellar play over the course of the rest of his career, making just 13 of his final 52 shots in a Villanova uniform. Reggie Redding, glue-guy extraordinaire for Jay Wright’s squad is also gone to graduation, but they also lose Taylor King who announced in June that he would be leaving the team, although he would remain in school to complete his degree. King, a former McDonald’s All-American with a long and storied history even before his college days, was a three-point bomber and a decent rebounder whose minutes and production declined over the course of the season. While he could have made some contribution to either this Villanova team, or another team at another level of basketball, his college basketball career turned out to be considerably less fruitful than anyone could have expected. Despite those losses, the ‘Cats have absolutely no lack of talent, with four former McDonald’s All-Americans remaining on their roster, and a host of other talented athletes.

The Wildcats return three starters: 6’1 senior point guard Corey Fisher, 6’5 senior off-guard Corey Stokes and 6’8 senior power forward Antonio Pena. Fisher is the team’s leading returning scorer, and will also be the team’s floor general. He is mostly a below-the-rim type point, with tons of quickness, great handles, and absolutely no conscience about shooting the ball, although his shot selection has tightened up over the years. With Reynolds departed, Fisher will have the ball in his hands more often, and that could be a good thing, since Fisher takes better care of the ball than Reynolds did and is better at creating for teammates.  Stokes will run alongside Fisher in the backcourt, and he is an excellent scorer who may see his production explode this season in the absence of Reynolds. He is a big guard, a pure spot-up shooter and he rebounds well for his position. Up front, Pena has improved greatly since his early days in the program when he was little more than a garbage man. Pena can surprise with his ability to put the ball on the floor in short bursts, is a good passer, and has turned into a good offensive post threat, all great additions to his already strong rebounding and defending.

While Wright’s teams have historically been guard-heavy, often employing either a three or even four-guard lineup, this Wildcat roster is more balanced, and features some strong young frontcourt talent, at least one of whom should vault into the starting lineup alongside Pena. Big things were expected of 6’9 power forward Mouphtaou Yarou in his freshman season, but it was derailed early by a battle with Hepatitis B. He did return to play in 21 games, and even started eight, but never looked completely comfortable out there, although ‘Nova may well have fallen to Robert Morris in the first round of the Tournament were it not for Yarou’s best game of the season: 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks on 5/6 shooting. He is a great athlete with a physical style and a strong body, and he figures to be the guy with the inside track for a starting spot. Classmate Isaiah Armwood is another long and athletic rebounder inside for the ‘Cats, but he is not nearly the finished product that Yarou is, and at 6’7 is a little undersized, although he figures to get some time. Redshirt sophomore Maurice Sutton is the biggest of the frontcourt players at 6’10, but he is also the least polished offensively. He needs to add some strength, but he moves very well and is a long and lean defender who is an active rebounder and shotblocker. Then there is 6’6 freshman power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston, a multi-talented addition to the Wildcat roster. His height tells you he is a small forward, and with the range out to the three-point line, the ballhandling skills, the passing ability and the dribble-drive attacks on the rim, he certainly could spend some time at the three. But with his prodigious strength, rebounding ability and bull-like power moves inside, he relishes his time in the paint. It will be near impossible for Wright to keep this guy off of the floor and he figures to be one of the more exciting newcomers in college basketball in 2010-11.

Along with those bigs, there are a couple of wing types who look to challenge for starting spots as well. Dominic Cheek is a 6’5 sophomore who got some good minutes in his rookie year and figures to have just begun to show the depth of his talent. He is a long defender, an at-times spectacular finisher and an effective shooter out to three-point range. While consistency on the jumper is still on the way, he figures to play a big part in the ‘Nova offense. Pushing Cheek for time is incoming freshman James Bell, who is somewhat similar to Cheek. Bell may be a stronger presence, while Cheek’s outstanding physical attribute is his length, and Bell may be a stronger rebounder than Cheek, but Bell has three-point range and tremendous finishing ability as well.

And then, all the way down here at the bottom, I’m just now getting to sophomore point Maalik Wayns, who was the most productive of last year’s freshmen. Wayns was too often out-of-control as a freshman, so he’ll need to reign some of his exuberance in, but he has a sparkling first step, a great crossover, tremendous speed, a nice little floater and if all that blow-by-ability isn’t enough, a developing three-point shot to keep defenders honest. He could wind up in the starting lineup as part of a three-guard attack, but more likely he’ll bring his energy off the bench.

This Wildcat team may have the most talent from top to bottom in a very talented Big East, and should be a very exciting team to watch. However, after those three seniors, this is all underclassmen – very talented underclassmen, for the most part, but still underclassmen. They’ve got enough players to win 25 games or so without getting out of bed, but in order to compete for a Big East title, and contend for a national championship as this program has come to expect, they’ll need at least a couple of those underclassmen to step up and make major contributions for this team, and they’ll need a few more to settle into roles. That’s easier said than done, but a coach like Wright should not be underestimated. While the future is bright for the ‘Nova program, the present is very enticing as well.

 


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