Season In Review: Villanova WildcatsPosted by mlemaire on May 6th, 2013
After an incredibly disappointing 13-19 finish to last season, coach Jay Wright was starting to hear murmurs of discontent from a Wildcats’ fan base that had watched their team slowly fade into obscurity following a 2009 run to the Final Four. Entering this season the pressure was on Wright to prove that he could get the program headed in the right direction again, and he rose to the challenge… barely. The Wildcats finished 20-14 on the season and 10-8 in conference play, which was good enough to slot them eighth, but they made the NCAA Tournament on the backs of three wins over the conference’s three best teams — Louisville, Georgetown, and Syracuse — and there was still plenty to be concerned about in Nova Nation. They will be looking to take another step forward next season, but first let’s take a trip back and review Villanova’s 2012-13 season.
Coming off that ugly season and losing their two best offensive players — Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek — the Wildcats were not expected to make a lot of noise this year. Both the coaches in the conference and our writers here at the microsite pegged Villanova as the 12th-best team in the Big East because of question marks about where the offense would come from and how quickly the new faces would get adjusted. Most who followed college basketball knew that the Wildcats had more veteran talent than some of the other squads ranked ahead of them, but after watching them falter with much of the same talent the year before, it was tough to believe that Villanova was capable of finishing in the top half of the conference.
There were plenty of positives for both individuals on the Villanova roster and the team itself, but if we were ranking them in order of their importance, the two-game stretch where they beat Louisville and then Syracuse in late January basically saved the Wildcats’ season. They had lost three straight conference games heading into that brutal stretch, and even though they were both home wins, they were still crucial to making ‘Nova believe they could hang with anyone. The team itself had its good pieces and its bad ones. The defense ranked in the top 30 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency and the offense got a boost from the fact that the Wildcats were the very best in the country when it came to free throw to field goal ratio. Wright also knew that certain players would need to step up if the Wildcats were going to be a factor this season, and luckily some players rose to the occasion. Senior center Mouphtaou Yarou (9.9 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 47.8%FG) capped a solid career on the Main Line with a dependable senior campaign, improving his free-throw shooting by nearly 10 percentage points and crashing the boards even harder in conference play (9.7 RPG). It took sophomore JayVaughn Pinkston (13.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 46.6 FG%) half a season to find his footing, but once he did, he consistently scored in double figures and became a match-up nightmare for opposing teams. Freshman point guard Ryan Arciadiacono (11.9 PPG, 3.5 APG, 34.3% FG) averaged 34 minutes per game and proved he was more than capable of being a Big East point guard.
The only reason Villanova was even on the bubble at all at the end of the regular season was because of their embarrassing play in the non-conference portion of their schedule. After eking out an overtime win over Purdue in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic, the team received a thorough 77-55 beatdown at the hands of Alabama in the finals and followed that up with an even more embarrassing loss to Columbia, of all teams, at home. They lost their next game in overtime to an excellent La Salle squad but you would be hard-pressed to find an NCAA Tournament team in the last 10 years that suffered as bad a loss as Villanova’s 18-point thrashing by the Ivy League bottom-feeder. As a team, there were two major reasons why the Wildcats still struggled despite their talent. When you ride with a freshman at point guard, you can expect turnovers, and the Wildcats finished last in the conference with 533 total miscues and were near the bottom of the national ranks in turnover percentage as well. It is hard to win games when you are turning the ball over at a rate of more than 15 times per game. Also, despite all of their positives on defense, they were one of the 40 worst teams in the country at defending the three-point line. They allowed opponents to shoot 37.1 percent from behind the three-point arc, which was good for last in the conference and helped to undo all of the otherwise hard work they put in on defense. The turnovers will likely subside some as Arciadiacono gets older and smarter, but you better believe that Wright will make defending the three-point arc a point of emphasis in offseason workouts and practices.
Only St. John’s and Georgetown were less experienced than Villanova in terms of average years of college basketball under their belts and that will bode well for the Wildcats next season as they only lose two players — Yarou and seldom-used center Maurice Sutton. The Wildcats don’t have any incoming recruits who can replace Yarou in the post, so a lot will be expected of rising sophomore center Daniel Ochefu. The talented big man averaged 3.5 PPG and 4.1 RPG in just 17 minutes per game and showed flashes of being capable of handling the rigors of a Big East center. The recruits Wright did bring in may not be centers capable of protecting the rim, but Kris Jenkins was a consensus top-100 recruit and his wide body should play well in the post along with big body and Worcester Academy product Darryl Reynolds. The other recruit is four-star wing Josh Hart who may have trouble finding playing time immediately in a crowded backcourt but should provide depth, stability and potential down the line. The other new face is Rice transfer Dylan Ennis, who averaged 8.5 PPG, 4.3 RPG, and 4.1 APG with the Owls his freshman season; he should take some of the ball-handling and point guard duties away from Arciadiacono, leaving the latter with more opportunities to score. In the rebuilt Big East, there is no question that Villanova has the talent to contend for the league title, it will just be a matter of whether Wright can plug some of the holes on both ends of the floor and ensure that his young team stays motivated.