Maalik Wayns will take over as the leader for Villanova this season. (Icon SMI)
By Ryan Feldman
Friday, September 09, 2011
Last Season: 21-12 (9-9)
Head Coach: Jay Wright
Key Losses: Corey Fisher, Antonio Pena, Corey Stokes
Projected Starting Lineup
PG: Maalik Wayns 6-2 Jr.
SG: James Bell 6-5 So.
SF: Dominic Cheek 6-6 Jr.
PF: JayVaughn Pinkston 6-7 Fr.
C: Mouphtaou Yarou 6-10 Jr.
Key Reserves: Maurice Sutton 6-11 Jr. C, Markus Kennedy 6-9 Fr. PF, Ty Johnson 6-3 Fr. PG, Achraf Yacoubou 6-4 Fr. SG, Darrun Hilliard 6-6 Fr. SG
After a disappointing end to the season that included six straight losses and first round exits in both the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament, Villanova is looking to forget about the past and focus on the future. And with an exciting freshman class that will combine with some young returning talent, the 'Cats have a chance to do some damage in the Big East and return to the NCAA tournament once again.
Two years ago, it was Scottie Reynolds. Last year, it was Corey Fisher. Now, it’s Maalik Wayns. The tradition of star guards at Villanova continues year after year. First, Fisher played second-fiddle to Reynolds, then Wayns played second-fiddle to Fisher, and now it’s just Wayns, who averaged 13.8 points and 4.5 assists per game last season, who will be leading the Wildcats in 2011-12.
The frontcourt will be headed by 6-foot-10, 250-pound Mouphtaou Yarou, who had a solid sophomore year with 8.4 points and 7.1 rebounds in 24.1 minutes per game while starting all 33 games. Yarou is a strong, defensive-minded big man, something the Wildcats haven’t had too many of in the Jay Wright era.
Also returning to the frontcourt is Maurice Sutton. Sutton, a frail 6-foot-11, 225-pound junior big man, has a limited offensive game but provides some added size and length down low for Villanova. JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6-foot-7, 235-pound power forward, was expected to get minutes as a freshman last season after being named a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school. But Pinkston was involved in an off-campus incident before the season that led to a season-long suspension. Now, the redshirt freshman will likely start and will be a key contributor on this squad. Pinkston is a burly player with the ability to score in the post and dominate on the boards. Markus Kennedy, a 6-foot-9, 270-pound freshman, will provide even more size and strength down low for the 'Cats.
The Villanova backcourt will go through Wayns, a 6-foot-2 junior point guard. Wayns is one of the best returning guards in the Big East. He is an exceptional ball handler that can dribble through traffic and finish on fast breaks with either hand. His jumper needs work (27.1 percent 3-pointers last season) but he is terrific at getting past his defender and attacking the rim.
Dominic Cheek and James Bell must take a giant leap forward for Villanova to be successful this season. Cheek, a former top-15 recruit, hasn’t quite panned out into the star player the 'Cats had hoped he’d become. Instead, the 6-foot-6 junior has been a defensive specialist and spot-up 3-point threat. However, Cheek only shot 30.5 percent from 3-point range last season. After averaging just 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds per game last year, Cheek has to become a reliable perimeter scorer for 'Nova this season.
Bell, a 6-foot-5 sophomore guard, averaged 2.4 points per game as a freshman. But he was buried on the depth chart behind Fisher, Wayns, Cheek and Corey Stokes. This year, Bell will be a likely starter. He is a strong, athletic guard with a solid 3-point jumper.
The 'Cats will have some young backcourt depth with three incoming freshmen. Leading that group is 6-foot-3 Ty Johnson, a strong, athletic point guard that will back up Wayns. Ashraf Yacoubou and Darrun Hilliard are two shooting guards that have the potential to become stars at Villanova but may not get a ton of playing time right away playing behind Cheek and Bell.
Villanova has the pieces to contend in the upper echelon of the Big East. But everyone’s role is increasing, so there are a lot of question marks. If the answers to those question marks are positive, Villanova will be near the top of the Big East and back in the NCAA tournament for the eighth straight year.