By Sean Kennedy
Following the dispiriting loss to Connecticut over the weekend, I wanted to take a few days and reflect back on things before finishing up this season’s Villanova coverage. Some media outlets were quick to be reactionary to the loss, pointing out Jay Wright’s now 13-11 record in the NCAA tournament, as if that was some mark of failure. Let’s break that record down for a second though. Two of those losses came at Hofstra when the Pride were either a 13th or 14th seed, certainly games no one would expect Wright to win so we can throw those aside. During his 13-9 tournament tenure at Villanova, he’s a perfectly respectable 9-3 when the Wildcats have been a higher seed (and therefore, would most likely be favored to win the game). On balance, that record means whenever he’s had a top team at Villanova, Wright has taken them to around the Elite 8. Certainly, taking a small, private school in the Philadelphia suburbs and consistently having them in the conversation as one of the best 8 teams in the country is no small feat. Even his 4-6 record when the Wildcats are the lower seed basically plays to expectation, so let’s cool it with the Jay Wright’s teams shrink in the tournament talk. The better team doesn’t always win, that’s the magic of March, but Villanova has still won plenty.
With that out of the way, let’s look forward to what is in store going forward for the Wildcats. A lot has been made of the recruiting shift to target players more interested in being a part of a college program, rather than using the NCAA experience just as a stepping stone to going pro. As a result, the Wildcats will not be losing any underclassmen to the NBA draft and will only be graduating two members of their current rotation.
Wake Forest transfer Tony Chennault had some nice moments in the Villanova uniform, but he was only seeing spot minutes off the bench toward the end of the season. The bigger loss will be felt by the departure of leading scorer James Bell. I don’t necessarily think his scoring will be irreplaceable, as over half his shots this season were from behind the arc, and he wasn’t a guy who created his own shot or helped others find open looks. Someone will step up to hoist those long-range bombs in the future. However, where they might struggle to duplicate Bell’s production is on the glass, as the senior finished just 2 rebounds shy of the team lead on the season. Bell’s presence afforded Jay Wright plenty of line-up flexibility, having a 6’5″ small forward capable of helping out on the boards like that, and allowing him to slide to the 4-spot in the small ball units the Wildcats frequently employed. Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart certainly acquitted themselves well throughout the season as freshmen, but whether they can fill the void on the glass will go a long way for the Wildcats next season.
Finally, as for the fresh blood, Villanova is bringing in two 4-star recruits including local boy Mikal Bridges, a 6’7″ small forward from Great Valley in Malvern. He and 6’2″ point guard Phil Booth both grade out similarly to Josh Hart from last year’s recruiting class and will have a chance to earn some minutes next season. With Villanova’s main competition in the conference this year, Creighton, losing the player of the year in Doug McDermott, you could argue the Wildcats will have an even easier time running through the Big East next season. So the Wildcats will be back in the tourney before you know it, and don’t hesitate to pencil them in for a few rounds in 2015, regardless of what happened on Saturday.