It’s hard to be a Wildcat fan these days. One day the team is making mincemeat of Big 5 foes; the next the team is looking like a lost flock of sheep against DePaul. Judging by the sentiment on various fan outlets, it seems to me that ‘Nova Nation is having trouble understanding what this team is and is not.
The entire undergraduate body has been treated to three consecutive outstanding seasons of basketball, led by heady upperclassmen. Don’t get me wrong; this current season is the start of something great, but Wildcat fans should know that ‘Nova is not one of the 25 best teams in the nation right now. Villanova may certainly be in the Top 25 in terms of potential, but fans cannot expect the type of consistency seen in programs like North Carolina or Memphis. We are going to lose games that we certainly should win. The fair-weather fans will sigh, shrug their shoulders and chalk this season up as a failure, but this season has been a great success to date in the big picture of Villanova basketball.
Foye, Fraser, Ray, Sumpter. These names carry a high level of regard when mentioned on campus. Fans regard the freshman class of the ’02-’03 season as one of the best in the school’s history. The runs to the Sweet Sixteen and the Elite Eight in back-to-back seasons are that group’s legacy; it is what they will be remembered for. What most fans do not remember were the two dismal seasons of their freshman and sophomore years. The super class registered 15 and 18 wins in the two seasons and two NIT appearances. The current team is built around mostly freshmen and sophomores, and it is easy to say that the young guards and forwards are further along in the maturation process than the super freshmen of ’02-’03.
Freshman guards Malcolm Grant and Corey Fisher are seeing fewer minutes than Foye and Ray saw during their freshman season. Now mind you, Foye and Ray actually had seniors on their team. This season Grant and Fisher are outscoring them as a tandem and are shooting at a much higher rate, 43 percent versus 37. The most telling statistic that truly shows the success of Grant and Fisher is their assist-to-turnover ratio. Combined, they are dishing out 1.7 assists per turnover, more than double Ray and Foye’s freshman ratio of .75.
Comparisons can even be drawn between current redshirt-freshman Antonio Peña and then-freshmen Curtis Sumpter. In six minutes less per game, Peña is averaging six points and three boards, while Sumpter averaged six points and four boards.
Many fans have been disappointed with the play of Scottie Reynolds before his 32-point outburst at Cincinnati, but I once again must say he is much further ahead of the curve than the previous set of ‘Nova guards. In 31 minutes per game, Foye averaged 13.5 points per game and shot under 40 percent during his sophomore campaign. In Reynolds’ current season, he is averaging 16.7 ppg in 33.9 minutes per game and is shooting over 41 percent; all the while taking the duty of one of the team’s four captains.
Even Casiem Drummond is statistically on track with High School All-American Jason Fraser’s sophomore season. Including missed time during their respective seasons, as well. Drummond is averaging seven points and eight boards in about 18 minutes per game, while Fraser averaged seven points and seven boards in 25 minutes per game.
Yes, many of the games this season have been against weaker teams, and the bulk of the Big East is awaiting the ‘Cats, but the positive output received from the young players cannot be denied. With this type of production from young players, there is no measure of how great this team can be in the future.
Once in a blue moon there is the rare case of a young team experiencing immense success. This includes last year’s Ohio State Buckeye team, which was led by freshmen Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook and Greg Oden. Unfortunately for Ohio State, they lost all three of those names to the NBA.
Jay Wright knows that he has something special brewing in his team. ‘Nova Nation must now see the potential in this team and above all, be patient. Instant gratification will not occur as much as we would like for our beloved Wildcats, but mark my word, this team may be taking trips to Detroit in ’09 and Indianapolis in ’10 for a certain “Dance.”
If the current team’s potential isn’t exciting enough, there have been several rumors claiming high school phenom Tyreke Evans is very close to making Villanova his college choice. We won’t know his decision until he’s ready to commit; so as always ‘Nova Nation must be patient. After all, good things come in time.
Justin DiBiase is a junior civil engineer from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]