Big East Preseason Previews and Predictions: #3 Villanova

Drew Hallowell

Jay Wright returns to his roots with a small-ball lineup and uses defense to finish top 3 of the Big East.

Last Year: 20-14 (10-8) 1st round of the NCAAs

Kenpom: 46th; Offense: 117th; Defense 23rd; Tempo 91st

Key Losses: Mouphtaou Yarou (Graduation), Achraf Yacoubou (transfer), Maurice Sutton (Graduation)

Key Additions: Kris Jenkins 6'5 Fr SF/PF, Josh Hart 6'4 Fr SF, Darryl Reynolds 6'8 Fr PF, Dylan Ennis 6'2 R-So PG(Transfer)

Key Returnees: JayVaughn Pinkston 6'6 Jr PF, Ryan Arcidiacono 6'3 So PG, Darrun Hilliard 6'6 Jr SG, James Bell 6'6 Sr SF, Daniel Ochefu 6'11 So C, Tony Chennault 6'2 So PG

Projected Starting Lineup: PG: Ryan Arcidiacono, SG: Darrun Hilliard, SF James Bell, PF: JayVaughn Pinkston, C: Daniel Ochefu

With only 10 real players and only 2 taller than 6'6", the questions for Villanova are depth and interior play.

What Villanova did well last year was 1) get to the free throw line and 2) defend (especially within the three-point line). Villanova was a very solid defensive team last year, rating in the top 100 in forcing turnovers, forcing steals, 2P% defense, defensive rebounding, and of course, the ever important FT defense. Yarou was a big part of all of that, holding down the interior for the Wildcats. In Nova's frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu was a better shot blocker but a worse defensive rebounder than Yarou, but the main concern with Ochefu is that he is so foul prone and Nova's front line is thin.  The only backup at the 5 is freshman Darryl Reyonlds and should Ochefu's foul troubles mount, Jay Wright may have to go ultra-small and play Pnkston at the 5.  Offensively, Ochefu will have a harder time replacing Yarou.  Yarou's ORtg of 107.3 blows Ochefu's 87.6 out of the water. Ochefu not only shot worse in terms of eFG% and TS% but also turned the ball over a lot more. None of this is that surprising comparing a senior to a freshman and Ochefu is certainly going to improve on all these numbers as a sophomore, but it is unlikely he'll be able to replicate everything Yarou brought to the floor for the 'Cats.

Though the Wildcats are a solid all-around group, there are a number of weaknesses the Wildcats put on full display last year. While the 'Cats were #1 in getting to the free throw line on offense, it also sent its opponent to the line a fair bit too, ranking 279th in not fouling. The Wildcats also turned over the ball at an alarming rate, ranking 314th in the nation. Compounding this fact was that most of the turnovers were live ball turnovers, as the 'Cats rated 309th in not getting the ball stolen. Outside of being able to get to the free throw line, Villanova's offense was a mess, rating 233rd in eFG%, 208th in 3P%, 238th in 2P%, and 218th in not getting blocked.

Pinkston is the heart and soul of this team. After surviving a MRSA scare in the offseason, the rising junior is the team's leading returning scorer and rebounder. He's still an undersized PF, but has developed his perimeter game over the last two seasons. Pinkston does most of his damage slashing and drawing fouls (4th best in the nation in Fouls drawn) and will likely see 30+ minutes at PF.  The remaining minutes at the 4 spot will likely go to an even more undersized PF in Kris Jenkins. Not known as a three point shooter in high school, reports out of practice actually have Jenkins as the best outside shooter on the squad, although that may not be saying much on a team that only shot 33% as a team with only Bell shooting what one would consider a good percentage from three at 36.4%.

Ryan Arcidiacono will again steer the ship at the PG spot after a promising freshman campaign that earned him co-rookie of the year honors. Ryan had a quality assist rate, but unfortunately he had an equal turnover rate. A year under his belt should see improvement in his turnovers and hopefully an uptick in his three point % from 32.7% last year. There were hopes to let him spend some time off the ball with Rice transfer Dylan Ennis playing the point position, but Ennis broke his foot and will be out 6-10 weeks. Ennis posted a very good 30.4% assist rate as a freshman at Rice. Tony Chennault will get another chance to be the backup while Ennis is out. Chennault  transferred from Wake Forest and was able to play immediately last year to underwhelming results.

Rounding out the starting lineup will be senior James Bell and junior Durran Hilliard. Bell was the most consistent outside shooter on last year's team and is the real glue guy of the Wildcats.  He was the best defender and stuffed the statsheet as the 2nd leading returning rebounder while averaging over an assist and steal a game. Hilliard is a bit more of a scorer than Bell despite hitting worse from deep.  Hilliard has a knack for the big stage and stepped up in some of Villanova's biggest wins: 11 vs. Louisville, 25 vs. Syracuse, 22 vs. Marquette, and 14 vs. Georgetown - all home wins for the Wildcats. They will be spelled by freshman Josh Hart, a scrappy two guard with not much of an outside shot, but he does the little things to help his team win games.

Villanova is a team that is going to rely on its defense for wins, and it should be about as good on that front as it was last year. What remains to be seen is if improvement from its perimeter players will make up for the lack of production in the frontcourt and specifically at the center spot. Villanova fared well at home last season while going 3-6 on the road in Big East play with its only quality road win at UConn. The Wildcats will need to learn how to win away from Philly in order to challenge for the top of the Big East.

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