Jay Wright once again has the Villanova Wildcats back in the national spotlight. After a final four appearance two years ago and a number 2 seed in the NCAA tournament last year, the best-dressed coach in college basketball once again has his team primed for a deep run in March.
The Wildcats return three starters, all seniors: guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher, as well as big man Antonio Pena. Combine them with sophomores Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, and you’ve got the starting lineup for the preseason’s number 6 team in the country.
As usual, the Cats will be loaded at guard. Headliners Fisher and Wayns will combine to be arguably the quickest guards in the nation. Both are bulldogs at their positions and each have been compared to ex-Nova guard and current Houston Rocket, Kyle Lowry. After watching the first three games of the 2010-2011 season, against Bucknell, Marist, and Boston U, its clear that the team and the offense will run through the two dynamic guards. With unmatched quickness and toughness, it will be hard to keep either of them out of the lane. Undersized, they work extremely hard on the defensive end and make the opposing guards work even harder to get anywhere on the court.
Fisher was one of the best finishers a year ago and improved his jump shot mightily, but it will be his leadership that Jay Wright will count on as the rugged Big East approaches. The quiet kid from St. Patrick’s HS in New Jersey, will have to take a page out of another former St Pats and Villanova guard Mike Nardi. Replacing the 2nd leading scorer in Villanova history, Scotty Reynolds, Fisher must be the floor general and off the court leader that Nardi was for the wildcats in there run to the elite eight in 2006.
Fisher’s running mate in the back court will be a true “Philly Guard” from Roman Catholic HS, highly touted Maalik Wayns. Wayns has opened eyes early in the young season, and is already being pegged as a first round draft pick. Much like Fisher, hes impossible to keep out of the lane and has also improved his jump shot from a year ago. Generously listed at 6’2, his only weakness seems to be his lack of size, however he usually turns that around as his greatest strength as he ducks under defenders with relative ease.
Though the scores may not show the Wildcats early struggles against the likes of Bucknell, Marist, and Boston U, it’s clear that the offense is a work in progress. Up only 8 at halftime against Marist, Villanova shot 3-15 from three and played right into what Marist wanted them to do, using zone to force the wildcats into shots they do not want. Eventually talent took over, as well as 5-6 from three in the second half, on way to routing an excited Marist squad.
Through these struggles, it was clear that when things break down, which they frequently did, it was Wayns or Fisher to the rescue. With the defense of the Wildcats, tough man to man with the occasional 1-2-1-1 press to push the tempo, they will be ready to compete in the Big East. However, with the success of the recent years at Nova, comes expectations. NCAA tournament appearances are no longer enough on the Main Line, especially after the disappointment of a year ago. For the Wildcats to win the Big East, and make a run DEEP into March they will need more than defense, Corey Fisher, and Maalik Wayns. The question for Jay Wright will be who steps up to help them? What happens if Wayns and Fisher get into foul trouble? What happens if they run into a team with guards who are just as quick and maybe a little bigger?
The obvious first choice is senior guard and sharpshooter Corey Stokes. An underrated rebounder and strong defender, Stokes, when on, can dominate a game. With two guards like Fisher and Wayns who can get anywhere on the court, Stokes should get open looks. With unlimited range, it always comes down to confidence with Stokes, who is coming off a disappointing junior year. At times he looks lost, and too willing to get out of his comfort zone. However, when its working for him, he makes early shots, gains confidence and can shoot from way out. When teams go zone against Villanova and force Fisher and Wayns to shoot from the outside, Stokes must be that zone-buster to soften the defense and open up the middle for the slashers and bigs.
Antonio Pena, the 6’9 senior from Brooklyn, who once played high school ball at Lincoln with former co-SLAM magazine cover boy (LeBron James) Sebastian Telfair, is Villanova’s starting center/forward. Pena, along with sophomore Mouph Yarou, will roam the middle, for the Wildcats. A little undersized for his position, he has really come along through his years in the program. Early on in his career he seemed content with hanging out on the perimeter and never established himself physically. Lately however, Pena has really come into his own as a rebounder and defensive player. He nearly doubled his rebounding numbers from his sophomore season to his junior season and will be relied upon even more, to do the dirty work on the interior this year. Not much of a shot blocker, his footwork has improved, and he is able to move his feet to take charges from larger interior players, while still blocking the occasional shot. Never a go-to scorer at Nova, if he can consistently hit the mid-range jumper in the middle of the lane and the short corner of the zone, he can really open the middle for some high low.
Pena’s interior partner will be sophomore Moup Yarou, who along with Wayns came highly recruited. Yarou could be the answer on the inside for the Wildcats for years to come. Listed at 6’10, “Mouph” shows a knack for the ball and an instinct for blocking shots. He also put on a little muscle, which is a must to go through the Big East in a league always stocked with thick big men. Playing defense is one thing, but doing it without fouling is totally different, for a team that seemed to foul everyone a year ago. He gets a lot of blocked shots coming from the weak side, but can also body up with almost anyone. Villanova has consistently made runs in the tournament without any big men to speak of, other than current Trailblazer Dante Cunningham, who mastered the short-corner jumper. With the guards that this team has and the defense it plays, any contribution offensively from the bigs will be a plus, without losing its toughness on the defensive end.
Off the bench, Villanova does not look as deep as they were a year ago. With the transfer of Taylor King, the Cats will be looking for that scoring option and shooter off the bench. The answer could come in the form of sophomore Dominic Cheek. Cheek will see his minutes rise considerably as Jay Wright continues to look for that 3rd or 4th scoring option. The rangy 6’6 guard, has an even longer wingspan and is perfect to be the head of the 1-2-1-1 press, as Shane Clark mastered in the teams final four run. Cheek shows flashes on the offensive end, and has the jumper and the athleticism to really be a consistent scorer in the Wildcats offense. Look for the former McDonald’s All American to break out this year and become a staple off the bench.
Also, coming off the bench will be 6’7 Isaiah Armwood and 6’11 Maurice Sutton. Armwood, shows flashes of being a useful swing man, and if he can consistently knock down mid range shots and really assert himself on the defensive end, he may be able to steal some meaningful minutes. Jay Wright will be counting on him to add some depth off the bench and really contribute in the Big East.
Sutton is an extremely long 6’11 center coming off the bench for the Wildcats. Though he has seen meaningful minutes early on in the season, I would not be surprised to see his time diminish as Jay Wright shortens his bench in league play. Though not very talented offensively, Sutton does add some rebounding and hustle play. He will be inserted to give a spark on the boards and take some fouls away from Pena and Mouph on the inside.
The unknown right now for the Villanova faithful, is freshman JayVaughn Pinkston from Brooklyn. Pinkston has been suspended for the first four games, in an incident that produced an assault report. An Alma Mater of Bishop Loughlin in Brooklyn, which produced former Wildcat standout Curtis Sumpter, Pinkston was highly touted coming out of high school and was named to the McDonald’s All American team. At 6’7, he will be asked to play multiple positions, much like his fellow Bishop Loughlin graduate. As a senior, he averaged 25 pts, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks, adding to the mystery of just how good he can be. There is much to be seen from the young man, but he could be the missing piece for a team looking for its first trip to the NCAA championship since 1985.
About the Author
Written by Brendan Kelly
Hoops junkie. Graduated from Temple U with a broadcasting and communications degree looking to get into a career in sports, more specifically basketball.