‘Nova’s changing of the guard

Mark O'Neil

 What do people usually think of when they hear the phrase “Villanova basketball?” Is it Scottie Reynolds? ‘Nova Nation? Jay Wright?  For many, these are the most likely answers.  But for others, the answer has always been “guards.” Villanova is a team that has built up its reputation through outstanding guard play.  The ‘Cats are famous for the four guard system: the old one in, four out. A classic Villanova team is one that is used to being outsized and out-muscled, yet by having what is usually one of the best backcourts in the country, the Wildcats find a way to win.

The loss of Reynolds and Redding will change the makeup of the Villanova basketball team more than most people would imagine.  With their departure and the arrival of incoming freshmen James Bell, Jayvaughn Pinkston and Markus Kennedy, the average height of the Villanova basketball team is greatly increasing. 

Throughout this season, the team has often had trouble stopping powerful centers and forwards on other teams, while also struggling to score points in the paint.  The list of opposing centers that have dropped large numbers on the team this year is longer than the line at the Corner Grille during lunchtime. Opposing players such as Greg Monroe, Samhan and the entire Syracuse front line dropped ridiculous numbers on the ‘Cats this year. How does Villanova respond to these players?  For every powerful forward that another team throws at us, we match them with quick and skillful guards. It was only toward the end of the season that the Villanova frontcourt seemed to develop into a more powerful unit, with Mouphtaou Yarou adding great contributions to the already solid play of Antonio Peña, along with a good showing from Maurice Sutton in the tournament.   

The Villanova team now appears to be transitioning into a much more traditional team, one that can compete with the big bodies that are constantly being thrown its way during the course of a Big East season.  This year, the average height of the most frequent starting lineup — that of Reynolds, Fisher, Stokes, Redding and Peña — had an average height of 6-feet-4-inches. With the incoming trio of new freshmen, along with increased playing time for this year’s freshman class, next year’s team will bring a much more physical presence to the court.  Fisher and Wayns will be the only Villanova players shorter than 6 feet 5 inches tall, and their position does not generally require any kind of height advantage.   

 These changes will bring about a whole new type of play for ‘Nova basketball, and next year’s team will bring a completely different dynamic to the court. Expect it to be taller, more athletic and more physical. Yarou and Sutton both showed improvements at the end of the year, and many people expect Yarou in particular to come back next year as a crucial factor for the team. The incoming Pinkston, who was described by ESPN as “a brute on the inside,” is also expected to make an immediate contribution to the ‘Cats frontcourt.  In a sense, this Villanova team has evolved from one that is guard-oriented to a much more traditionally balanced team. With Fisher, Stokes, Wayns and Bell providing what will continue to be a very solid backcourt, the 2010-’11 Villanova basketball team should come back with a vengeance. 

 Is having a bigger team really that much of an advantage? Villanova has always been able to get away with having an undersized team, but this season exposed the weaknesses of a guard-orientated squad.  It would appear that this year height played an important role, as Kentucky, who finished the regular season No. 2 in both the AP and Coaches polls, is widely known to be the tallest team in college basketball.  Their ability to simply out-muscle other teams in the paint and around the rim is what made them so hard to beat, and it took an equally large West Virginia team to knock them out of the tournament.  

While Villanova will probably not be the tallest team in the nation next year, the sheer number of tall and athletic bodies that Wright will be able to throw at opposing teams will be crucial to the team’s success.  In a long and tough Big East season, having a deep bench with big bodies readily available will be one of the ‘Cats greatest assets next year.  Villanova was third in the country in scoring this year, while only managing to be 29th in rebounding.  

Will that change next year?  Nobody can tell for sure, but one thing is certain: People are already getting excited for next season.  Dick Vitale ranked the ‘Cats No. 4 in his pre-season rankings.  Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman put Villanova No. 7 in his preseason ranking and Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn has ‘Nova No. 6 in his preseason poll.  The experts have high hopes for next season, and so should the rest of us.       


Mark O’Neil is a freshman undeclared major from Essex, Conn. He can be reached at [email protected]