|Villanova C Mouphtaou Yarou will patrol the lane for the Wildcats in the upcoming season. Yarou looks to lead Villanova back to the postseason after a one-year absence. (US Presswire)|
Preview: Villanova Wildcats
Last year: 13-19, 5-13 Big East (tied-13th), didn't qualify for the postseason
Coach: Jay Wright (12th year, 237-130; 19 years, 359-215)
Projected starters: PG Ryan Arcidiacono, Fr. (Did not play); SG Darrun Hilliard, Soph. (4.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.0 apg); SF James Bell, Jr. (7.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.3 apg); PF JayVaughn Pinkston, Soph. (9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 1.1 apg); C Mouphtaou Yarou, Sr. (11.3 ppg. 8.2 rpg, 0.5 apg).
Top newcomer or Top Newcomers: Arcidiacono. After the departure of Maalik Wayns, the local product will inherit the point -- at least for now. Arcidiacono returns to the floor after missing his entire senior year of high school with a back injury. The 6-3, 185 pound freshman has played so well in the preseason that Wright says it didn't even look like he missed a year. Before suffering the injury, Arcidiacono stood out at the CP3 Elite Point Guard Camp in Winston-Salem, N.C., two summers ago. Arcidiacono might not be the fastest, but he uses a shot fake effectively to draw fouls and continually finds ways to knife into the lane. Arcidiacono was ranked seventh among point guards and 57th overall in the Class of 2012 by Rivals.com. Daniel Ochefu, a 6-10, 230-pound forward, could play immediately. With an 85-inch wingspan, Ochefu can help a defense that allowed 70.6 ppg (14th in the Big East) in 2011-2012. Tony Chennault, a transfer from Wake Forest, could spell Arcidiacono off the bench. Mislav Brzoja, a Croatian native, can fill it up from outside.
Key loss or key losses: Wayns and Dominic Cheek, the Wildcats' two leading scorers last season, both declared early and went undrafted. At first glance, the loss of Wayns might appear tough to digest. Wayns, however, shot just 29.8 percent from 3-point range last year and had a pedestrian 1.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. While Cheek could be a dependable second option, he proved to be a defensive liability at times and also struggled from beyond the arc.
What you need to know: Villanova hasn't been back to the Sweet 16 since earning a spot in the Final Four in 2009. Last year, the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. Yarou is the only top recruit that remains from a heralded 2009 class that never panned out. There are low expectations for the young team, but at the very least, Wright needs to build the foundation for 2013-2014.
Mark the calendar:
- Dec. 11 vs. Saint Joseph's: The Wildcats were hardly competitive last season in a 74-58 loss to their Big 5 rivals. The Hawks return a potent backcourt in senior Carl Jones and junior Langston Galloway. Villanova would like to regain bragging rights in the city.
- Jan. 22 vs. Louisville: It's the first of potential back-to-back games against top-10 opponents in four days. The Cardinals have an imposing frontcourt in PF Chane Behanan and C Gorgui Dieng.
- Jan. 26 vs. Syracuse: It marks the last time the Orange will face the Wildcats in Philadelphia as a member of the Big East. Syracuse has won two straight in the series, including a 79-66 victory last season when it was ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Biggest question: His team ranked last in the conference in field-goal percentage (41.2 percent), but can Wright receive instant production from several talented newcomers? If not, Wright will need both Pinkston and Bell to step up. Pinkston nearly averaged a double-double in his redshirt freshman season but struggled at the line (66.9 percent). Bell can move to power forward when Wright opts to go with a three-guard lineup.
Best-case scenario: Yarou becomes the player Wright envisioned when he signed the former Montrose Christian standout. The 6-10, 255-pound senior not only commands constant double teams with a refined post game, he consistently alters shots on the other end. Yarou earns first-team all-conference honors and is complemented by the steady presence of Echefu inside. Villanova earns a spot in the NIT.
Worst-case scenario: The newcomers and the top returning players are unable to blend together. With two matchups against Syracuse, as well as games vs. Louisville, Pitt, Notre Dame and USF in January, the Wildcats have a challenging start to the conference season. Wright loses the team by February and Villanova finishes under .500.
Reality: Yarou has his best season in a Villanova uniform, impressing NBA scouts with his toughness. The trio of Yarou, Pinkston and Echefu make the Wildcats tough inside. Arcidiacono shows promise at the point. Villanova doesn't make the NIT, but qualifies for the CBI or CIT.
Season opens: vs. District of Columbia, Nov. 9, 7:00 p.m. ET
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis on the Big East, follow bloggers Evan Hilbert and Matt Rybaltowski @CBSBigEast.