After being a top 10 team for most of the season, Villanova's sensational run came to a startling halt at the hands of St. Mary's in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Seven months following that shocking defeat, I had the privilege of speaking with Jay Wright (a privilege that I am always grateful for) at last month's Big East media day. Being somewhat of a 'Nova fan in addition to my media status, I look forward to my engagements with Wright; and naturally the first question that came to mind is whether or not his team remained "humble, but hungry," a mantra the Wildcats adopted in practice going into last season as they attempted to replicate their run to the Final Four for the first time since 'Nova brought a miraculous national championship to the Main Line as a 9 seed in 1985. Needless to say, Wright quickly assured me that the demeanor around the practice court hasn't changed; and after losing seniors Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding, two players that Wright and I agreed were the "heart and soul" of the program, the Wildcats will need that "humble, but hungry" attitude to bring 'Nova Nation another long and prosperous month of March.
In Reynolds' absence, Corey Fisher will most likely be the primary option; and if you've watched the Bronx product evolve over the years since arriving as a freshman three years ago, you'll agree that he could easily be crowned the conference player of the year in the Big East. Fellow senior Corey Stokes will join Fisher in the backcourt, and Wright insists that the Coreys are definitely not lost boys. "They've been everything we expected," said the coach of his fourth-year backcourt anchors. Maalik Wayns steps up from a stellar freshman campaign into the starting lineup, with Antonio Pena back at power forward for his senior season. After missing most of the early portion of last season due to contracting hepatitis, center Mouphtaou Yarou is back and is healthy.
The Wildcats' bench will most likely be paced by Dominic Cheek, who goes into his sophomore year as the team's sixth man and his presence on the floor may once again provide Wright with the ability to play his unorthodox yet effective four guard lineup. In fact, the coach is looking forward to playing "four quick," telling me emphatically "Oh yeah!" when I asked of the feasibility of a four-guard lineup. Wright also hinted that the team may also play some zone defense, a change from years past that was implemented in 'Nova's exhibition against the University of the District of Columbia. Bishop Loughlin (NY) product JayVaughn Pinkston looks like the most promising freshman on Wright's roster, and hopes are he could be as good as Curtis Sumpter, the last Loughlin recruit to play on the Main Line.
The Wildcats open their season Friday at the Pavilion against Bucknell before they progress to the Preseason NIT. When I asked Wright about the importance of potentially playing in Madison Square Garden before the Big East tournament, he boldly stated "if you can get here and play on this floor before the Big East tournament, it's an added benefit." Villanova heads into its annual Big 5 schedule from there against Philadelphia rivals St. Joe's, Penn, La Salle and Temple. The Wildcats' Big East opener comes against Rutgers on January 2nd at the Pavilion.