RTC Class Schedule 2009-10: Villanova WildcatsPosted by zhayes9 on October 1st, 2009
There’s not a single program in the entire 16-team Big East in as strong a shape as the Villanova Wildcats.
Even in a league loaded with top-ranked mainstays like Louisville, Connecticut, Georgetown and Pittsburgh, it’s Villanova in the best position to dominate the pre-eminent college hoops conference in the land for the foreseeable future. Their coach, Jay Wright, is the ideal face of a dominant program, a terrific leader and communicator who has done a phenomenal job recruiting since arriving at Villanova, from assembling the guard-oriented Foye-Ray-Lowry-Nardi foursome to the 2009-10 class of top-50 quartet Mouphtaou Yarou, Maalik Wayns, Dominic Cheek and Isaiah Armwood. They play in the strong media market Philadelphia and at the NBA-fitting Wachovia Center. Last season, the Wildcats won 30 games and reached their first Final Four since 1985.
Wright has built such a program that another Final Four remains a viable expectation for Villanova fans heading into 2009-10. Along with the star-studded recruiting class, Wright returns potential All-American guard Scottie Reynolds to team up with junior Corey Fisher for a tremendous backcourt, a strength that’s par the usual since Wright took the helm in Philly. Duke transfer Taylor King and sharpshooter Corey Stokes can certainly stretch the floor and hit big outside shots this season. Losing senior leader and double-double forward Dante Cunningham, along with glue guy Dwayne Anderson, stings, but Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena are experienced cogs. Most importantly, the #2 recruiting class in the nation (behind Kentucky) should provide a huge boost immediately for a squad that will likely be named the Preseason Big East favorites.
How does the schedule look for the Wildcats? Let’s take a peek:
Non-Conference Schedule Rank: 5. Incredibly, Villanova only has five true home games in the non-conference slate. Two of their road games are in the city of Philadelphia with back-to-back short trips to St. Joseph’s and Temple scheduled. Their other three Philly foes- La Salle, Drexel and Penn- will face the Wildcats at their on-campus arena. There’s some potential for difficult games on Jay Wright’s schedule, but no truly elite opponents in November and December. Villanova will travel to DC to take on ACC contender Maryland at the Verizon Center in what should be their most challenging test. A trip to Puerto Rico in November could pit the Wildcats against either Dayton or Georgia Tech in the second round and either Mississippi or Kansas State in the final. The second round could be trickier than the final as Dayton and Georgia Tech are borderline top-25 teams with talented frontline players Chris Wright (Dayton) and Derrick Favors (Georgia Tech) that should be hard to handle for an inexperienced frontline.
Cupcake City: While no single challenger blows you away, the only true “cupcake” on the non-conference schedule is the first contest of the year against Farleigh Dickinson. The other home games shouldn’t prove too much of a test- Penn, La Salle, Drexel, Delaware and a neutral site game vs. Fordham. The Wildcats also face George Mason in the first round in Puerto Rico. None of those CAA/Atlantic 10-type teams will prove huge tests for Wright’s squad, but credit the Villanova coach for going light on the lightweights.
Toughest Early Season Test: I’m fairly high on Maryland this season. We all know about Greivis Vasquez and his tremendous scoring ability, but the Venezuelan’s progression as a floor leader has really enhanced his game. He’ll also be playing this year with first-round riches in mind. The Terrapins peaked at the end of 2008-09 and the team that knocked off Cal in the first round returns everyone but senior forward Dave Neal. Landon Milbourne and Eric Hayes are experienced, double-digit scorers while Adrian Bowie and Sean Mosley can certainly contribute. Gary Williams also added two talented big men to the fray, correcting a serious Achilles heel from a season ago. There’s some tremendous backcourt matchups in this December 6 clash at the Verizon Center in Washington DC.
Easiest Conference Stretch: Villanova has a chance to get off to a great start to the Big East campaign. In a bit of a schedule oddity, Nova is matched up with Marquette twice in a one-week span to complete their home-and-home series, a Golden Eagles team that lost nearly all of their production from a season ago save Lazar Hayward. A meeting with bottom-feeder DePaul sandwiches those two contests. A road game at Louisville is always challenging, but the Cardinals are very inexperienced and likely a bubble team this season. After a home date with a good Georgetown team, Villanova goes back on the road to Rutgers and St. John’s, two teams with talented individuals like Greg Rosario (Rutgers) and Anthony Mason Jr. (St. John’s), but are a ways away from dreaming about March. A 6-1 record during this period is not a stretch by any means.
Hardest Conference Stretch: The early portion of the February slate will be the Wildcats biggest obstacle in their pursuit of a conference title. The two road games are certainly the most difficult on the entire schedule with trips to take on Greg Monroe and a Georgetown team looking for a rebound off last season’s disappointing year and a visit to the raucous atmosphere of Morgantown where possible Big East champion West Virginia waits. If any team is going to overtake Villanova atop the Big East, it’s the Mountaineers. Devin Ebanks and DeSean Butler form a mean 1-2 punch and it appears the two-headed point guard monster of Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla will be eligible. These two top-10 caliber teams also meet March 6 in the season finale in Philly.
Most Difficult Road Test: It’ll absolutely be the aforementioned February 8 visit to West Virginia as part of ESPN’s Big Monday. Bob Huggins’ teams always play with rugged intensity and constant physicality, but now he has tremendous talent to compliment that mentality. Villanova may have the edge on the perimeter, but the inside play and rebounding ability of Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Wellington Smith and 6’9 freshman Deniz Kilici could pose problems for Yarou and the Wildcats.
Most Anticipated Home Date: The 3/6 finale vs. West Virginia could decide the Big East title, but in efforts to talk about a different squad, I’ll go with 2/15 against Connecticut in a matchup of the two Final Four representatives from the Big East last season. Connecticut returns a potential top-15 team in a battle of the backcourts with Villanova. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson vs. Corey Fisher and Scottie Reynolds is a tremendous debate. Also, keep an eye on the battle of rookies in the paint with UConn’s Alex Oriakhi banging with Villanova’s Yarou.
Best Individual Matchup: You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that disagrees with the statement that Villanova has the most talent in this conference, mostly due to their elite backcourt of Reynolds, Fisher, Stokes and the freshmen Wayns and Cheek. Yet the down Big East could be more of a frontcourt oriented league this season. Rather than a specific matchup, I’m curious to see how the mediocre frontcourt of Pena, Redding, Armwood and the hyped freshman Yarou react to facing impact players around the Big East such as Lazar Hayward, Samardo Samuels, Greg Monroe, Stanley Robinson, Devin Ebanks and Luke Harangody.
Upset Watch: A very dangerous team this year is Seton Hall. The defense remains a huge question mark, and the one contest this year between the two Mid-Atlantic schools will be played in Philly, but I wonder if the Pirates can’t pull off a shocker in the 95-90 final range. Jeremy Hazell can score with the best and Eugene Harvey is a talented point guard. Add in impact transfers Herb Pope and Keon Mitchell, along with big men John Garcia and swingman Robert Mitchell, and Bobby Gonzalez may bring Seton Hall to the Dance for the first time in his coaching tenure. A contender like Villanova cannot afford to overlook this dangerous Pirates team or an upset may be in order.
The debate will rage into October and November over whether West Virginia or Villanova should be considered the favorite in the Big East. While Georgetown, Connecticut and Cincinnati have dangerous squads that are certainly NCAA-worthy, the Mountaineers and Wildcats look to be clearly the top two. What separates Villanova is their talent level and scoring ability. I’m curious to see how this much-ballyhooed recruiting class molds with veteran pieces like Reynolds and Redding. It’s a concoction that I’m sure Jay Wright is happy to deal with en route to another deep March run.