DIBIASE: Young stars provide bright outlook for Wildcats

Justin Dibiase

Villanova does not rebuild; it refuels. Many were quick to tag ‘Nova as an NIT team only a few weeks ago when the team sat at a paltry 1-3 in the Big East. Fast forward a few weeks and there are now analysts across the country drooling over the potential that the young Wildcats possess not only in the future but during this postseason as well. With no obvious powerhouse in the Big East Conference, there is no reason to believe that Villanova will not finish near the top of the Big East and be granted an at-large bid from the NCAA selection committee.

Here we are talking about a potential postseason push for a Wildcat team comprised mainly of freshmen and sophomores. The seniors have done a tremendous job providing leadership for the young players, but they will be the first to admit that this current run of solid play can be largely attributed to the young guys. These underclassmen are doing things that most freshmen and sophomores frankly don’t do. They travelled to Georgetown and defeated a junior- and senior-laden team on its own floor. They had their way with a strong but disappointing Texas team without their leader and number one scorer, Curtis Sumpter. Comparatively, I don’t believe Villanova would have been able to beat a ranked team last season had Randy Foye been sidelined. There is something about this crop of young players who Jay Wright and his coaching staff have assembled that makes the entire Villanova campus dizzy over the potential for success in the next few years. I will not even mention the outstanding guards of next season’s recruits.

The things that hold this team together and that will be the benchmarks of the young players’ futures will be their hustle and ability to create turnovers. This department seems to be one of the many positives that Wright has brought to the team since taking over in 2001. When there is a loose ball, there are so many blue jerseys on the floor that one would think there was a Slip n’ Slide on the court. The full-court press has also become a staple of Villanova basketball, and there isn’t a guard in America who wants to face that kind of pressure the entire game.

Many believe that a return to the Elite Eight is far away for the ‘Cats. I don’t blame them for thinking that after losing three NBA-ready studs last season. However, the progression of last season’s superb team was slower than the torrid pace set by these freshmen and sophomores. Villanova only managed to go 18-17 in Foye’s and Allan Ray’s sophomore season. In their freshman season, they ended up an even less impressive 15-16. One can only imagine the progress which will be made in the next two or three years with this current bunch.

The program feels safe in the hands of super-freshman Scottie Reynolds. I don’t know if I am alone on this feeling, but I feel like Reynolds has a lot of Kyle Lowry in him. He is feisty, strong, quick and a true competitor. Basically, Reynolds is Lowry with a jump shot.

The trio of Will Sheridan, Sumpter and Mike Nardi has been a part of the staple of Wildcat basketball for several solid years, but there appears to be a changing of the guard. The development of Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark has led to their playing larger roles in the offense as well as seeing more minutes.

With Cunningham on the floor, Villanova should be able to keep the score of any game within reach simply by assigning him to match up against the opposing team’s number one. Cunningham did not get the credit he deserved in the media after the win against Texas for basically making Kevin Durant seem like an average college freshman, not a top three NBA prospect.

Villanova has become a deep team in terms of useful players. The current group of young bench players gives Wright many options when it comes to matchups.

All of the factors that I have mentioned are reasons why Wildcat basketball is on the rise once again. By the time the underclassmen become senior leaders (hopefully they become seniors), I don’t see why a Final Four banner should not be hanging from the rafters of the Pavilion.

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Justin DiBiase is a sophomore civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]