NCAA countdown: No. 34 Villanova
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Villanova coach Jay Wright is sitting much more comfortably than he did a year ago. He’s not shy in admitting the Wildcats were a “bad team” at the start of the 2012-13 season — evidenced by an 18-point November loss to Columbia, a team that went on to finish 4-10 in the Ivy League.
As the season progressed, though, Villanova got much better and eventually squeaked into the NCAA tournament field thanks to an above-.500 record in the punishing Big East, which included court-rushing victories against then-top five teams Louisville and Syracuse.
Now, Wright brings back a nucleus from a team that also beat Georgetown, Marquette and UConn last season. Villanova enters the 2013-14 season in a restructured Big East with the pieces in place to contend for a title, led by returning forward JayVaughn Pinkston and a seasoned backcourt.
2012-13 in review: 20-14 overall (10-8 in Big East), lost in second round of NCAA tournament to North Carolina.
Tournament projection: At-large bid, No. 9 seed.
Conference outlook: There are many questions for the upcoming season in the new Big East, now a 10-team basketball-focused league made up of the seven Catholic schools that departed the traditional Big East (Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s, Providence, Seton Hall and DePaul) and newcomers Butler, Xavier and Creighton. The league race appears to be wide open, and the Wildcats would have to beat out four other NCAA tournament-caliber teams in Marquette, Creighton, Georgetown and St. John’s.
Coach’s corner: “I like our experience level. We still kind of look young, but we’ve got a lot of experience. Guys played as freshmen and sophomores. We only lost one starter in Mouphtaou Yarou. I just think as a team, we started to mature at the end of last year, and I think we can really build on that this season.” — Wright, now in his 13th season at Villanova.
Star watch: Pinkston, a versatile forward, was the team’s leading scorer last season at 13.3 points per game. Ryan Arcidiacono (11.9 ppg), Darrun Hilliard (11.4 ppg) and James Bell (8.6 ppg) make for … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 34 Villanova, click here.]