By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
It’s been less than 2 weeks since Villanova was upset by NC State in the Round of 32, but there’s already been a slew of news coming from the Main Line. First, Wildcat fans received a nice measure of satisfaction when Jay Wright again proved his loyalty to Nova Nation.
I’ve learned that Texas’ search firm reached out to representatives of Jay Wright to gauge his interest. Was told thanks but no thanks.
— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 31, 2015
However, while Coach Wright will remain finely tailored on the Villanova sideline, one guy who won’t be hanging around the Main Line will be Dylan Ennis. The former Rice transfer announced yesterday he’ll be taking his services elsewhere once more, as he’ll graduate from Villanova after this year and use his final year of eligibility at another school. The official reason was Ennis wanting to find a home somewhere as a pure point guard with the ball in his hands more often. It’s certainly understandable from his perspective as his professional prospects would gain a boost from higher usage and the corresponding counting stats that would go along with such a shift.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, they’re as equipped to deal with the loss of Ennis and the graduating Darrun Hilliard as well as any team in the nation could possibly be. In addition to returning Big East co-Player of the Year Ryan Arcidiacono and Big 5 Rookie of the Year Phil Booth, Jay Wright’s latest recruiting class includes arguably the top prospect ever during his tenure at Villanova. 6’2″ point guard Jalen Brunson is a McDonald’s All-American and Illinois Mr. Basketball, not to mention the son of former Temple star and eventual NBA player Rick Brunson. With Booth set to take on much of Hilliard’s minutes, Ennis’ departure might actually be a blessing in disguise by providing Brunson with a clearer path to playing time in a crowded backcourt.
While Hilliard received Big 5 Player of the Year and 1st team All-Big East honors, the bigger loss just based on roster construction may be departing senior JayVaughn Pinkston. The team’s second-leading rebounder did a lot of the dirty work on the interior while also serving as the de-facto back-up center when Coach Wright sent Daniel Ochefu to the bench and went with smaller lineups.
In Pinkston’s stead, the Cats will need Ochefu to continue expanding his offensive game in what will be his his senior season, while also avoiding foul trouble and staying on the court more than his 24 minutes per game this past year. It’s hard to know what to expect from 6’8″ sophomore Darryl Reynolds, who played just 5 minutes per game this past year, and while 6’6″ Kris Jenkins will likely slide into the starting lineup as a stretch four, he’s a bit undersized to fill the same exact role as Pinkston. Another interesting alternative might be redshirt freshman Mikal Bridges, who stands at 6’7″ but has more of a perimeter player’s game and will see a lot of time at small forward as well. Certainly, the frontcourt will be the weakness for the Cats next season and we’ll see how Wright fits the pieces together.
Looking back though, it was by nearly every measure a tremendously successful season for the Wildcats. I mentioned the individual honors for Arcidiacono, Hilliard, and Booth, while Pinkston and Ochefu were both All-Big East honorable mentions. As a team, Villanova recorded the most wins in school history and won its first Big East Tournament title in 20 years. Of course, the ultimate measuring stick is inevitably the NCAA tournament, and despite earning a #1 seed, the Wildcats failed to reach the Sweet 16 once again. Villanova hasn’t advanced past the first weekend since their Final Four run in 2009.
As expected, a disappointing early exit brought out all the talk from certain circles about how Jay Wright’s teams choke in March and the offense isn’t conducive for tournament runs. Fortunately, there seemed to be more ‘backlash to the backlash’ this year, correctly pointing out that despite a perfect storm of off shooting nights from nearly the entire roster, the Wildcats still had a wide open go-ahead look from three in the closing moments (which now, may be how Dylan Ennis’ Villanova tenure is remembered). As Jay Wright later said, he’s “not making drastic changes based on missing one shot.”
So while the NC State game was upsetting, I don’t think there’s some inherent flaw in the system that’s keeping the Cats from postseason glory. Villanova is coming off the winningest season in school history and with Brunson and Bridges entering the fold, the Wildcats are poised to have a similar run in 2015-16. Keep putting those V’s up Nova Nation and I’m sure victory will follow.