Jay Wright continues a road to rebuilding this season at Villanova, which will see much more frontcourt depth this season. (Photo courtesy of Boston Globe)
Following some insight into DePaul and their prospects in the coming season, the next Big East program to get their moment in the sun is one rebuilding just three years removed from a Final Four appearance.
Known in recent years for developing a Who's Who of Big East guards the likes of Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry, Allan Ray, Mike Nardi, Dwayne Anderson, Shane Clark, Scottie Reynolds, Reggie Redding, Corey Stokes, Corey Fisher, and most recently Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns, Villanova should be something that most fans on the Main Line have not seen from the Wildcats over the years: A unit with greater strength up front.
"This is the best we've ever been up front," remarked head coach Jay Wright, who attempts to return 'Nova Nation to its winning ways on the heels of a 13-19 season that saw Villanova play the year with no seniors in their rotation for the first time since the 2007-08 season, one year before the program's first Final Four since their miracle run to the national championship in 1985. Senior Mouphtaou Yarou returns to the frontcourt to be Villanova's primary weapon inside following a junior campaign in which he averaged over eleven points and eight rebounds per game, and will now attempt to prove he belongs in the conference's elite. Brooklyn product JayVaughn Pinkston, who will enter his sophomore season after being readmitted to the university following an off-campus incident that kept him off the court in the 2010-11 season after he had initially signed with Villanova, will be Yarou's running mate again as he looks to improve upon a stellar rookie campaign where the one-time Bishop Loughlin standout averaged nearly ten points and over five rebounds per contest. Senior Maurice Sutton and 6-10 freshman Daniel Ochefu should also see minutes alongside Yarou and Pinkston at times to give the Wildcats an imposing presence that will create matchup problems for smaller teams.
Regardless of how strong the Wildcats are up front, Villanova's bread and butter has always been their backcourt, and will probably continue to be this year even with the losses of Cheek and Wayns to professional opportunities in Italy and with the Philadelphia 76ers, respectively. James Bell returns to the Villanova backcourt for his junior season, where he will anchor the group from the wing following a breakout season in which he averaged seven points per game. Sophomores Ty Johnson, Darrun Hilliard and Achraf Yacoubou will join Bell at various times on the floor to help give Villanova its trademark "four quick" look during games, but there is no question that the biggest contributors to the guard attack on the Main Line will be the two players who just arrived this summer.
After receiving a waiver to play immediately, junior Tony Chennault comes to the Wildcats from Wake Forest, and is already being hailed by Wright for his maturity and experience. A 6-2 combo guard, Chennault averaged nine points, three rebounds, and just about three assists per game for Jeff Bzdelik and the Demon Deacons last season, and the former Neumann-Goretti product now has the opportunity to play in front of his hometown fans. A fellow Philadelphia recruit will join him this season, most likely at the point. After verbally committing to the Wildcats in 2010 and having his senior season in high school sacrificed due to back surgery, Ryan Arcidiacono finally comes to Villanova eager to make an impact and return to the high level that attracted Wright to him. Having averaged over twenty points, five rebounds and five assists per game in his junior season two years ago, Arcidiacono certainly has the makeup and ability to translate his skill set to the collegiate ranks. "The expectations were low because he didn't play last year," said Wright. "We're really excited about him."
Villanova tips off their 2012-13 season on November 9th at the Pavilion, taking on the Division II University of the District of Columbia and head coach Jeff Ruland in the preliminary round of the 2K Sports Classic. Marshall comes onto Villanova's campus two days later in another 2K prelim before the Wildcats make their third straight in-season trip to Madison Square Garden for the 2K finals, following appearances in the Preseason NIT and Jimmy V Classic the previous two seasons. Columbia University invades the Pavilion on November 20th before the Wildcats play their first Big 5 game on November 25th, a road tilt against La Salle.
Villanova gets a week off before opening December on the first of the month in Nashville to take on Vanderbilt in the SEC/Big East Challenge, then plays two straight Big 5 games; first at the Palestra against Penn, (December 8th) with the other a home game against Saint Joseph's three days later. Following a December 16th hosting of Delaware, Wright and the Wildcats travel to New Jersey on December 22nd to return the favor against Monmouth after King Rice's Hawks played at the Pavilion a year ago. NJIT serves as Villanova's final nonconference opponent with a December 28th showdown on the Main Line, with St. John's coming in on January 2nd to open Big East play.
The Wildcats again get a week off following the St. John's game, and will take the court again on January 9th on the road against USF, with Villanova's final trip to the Carrier Dome in Big East play waiting in the wings three days later against Syracuse. Jamie Dixon and Pittsburgh, who like the Orange will be leaving the Big East for the ACC at the end of the season, come into the Pavilion on January 16th, while Providence hosts the Wildcats three days later. The first four games following Villanova's conference opener are front ends of home-and-home series.
The Wildcats play their first game of the season at the Wells Fargo Center on January 22nd against Rick Pitino and reigning Final Four participant Louisville, with Syracuse coming into the home of the 76ers and Flyers four days later to wrap up a home-and-home. Villanova closes January in South Bend when they face Notre Dame on the 30th, and returns home to the Pavilion to meet Providence for the second time this season in a 12pm matinee on Super Bowl Sunday. (February 3rd) A road trip to DePaul (February 5th) sandwiches the Providence game and a home date on February 9th against USF at the Pavilion.
Villanova's penultimate road trip of the regular season is a two-game swing to Cincinnati (February 12th) and Hartford, where the Wildcats will face UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie on February 16th at the XL Center. Two days later, Mike Rice and Rutgers make their way into the Pavilion, which will host its annual senior night on February 23rd when Marquette comes to the Main Line. The Wildcats' final road trip commences two nights later in Newark against Seton Hall, and continues on March 3rd with Villanova's final Big East game at the Petersen Center against Pitt. Villanova closes the regular season earlier than most Big East schools, with its final contest being a March 6th showdown with Georgetown inside the Wells Fargo Center, six days before the Big East Tournament tips off at Madison Square Garden.