Villanova Basketball: 12 Keys for Wildcats to Compete in the Big East

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIJanuary 4, 2012

Villanova Basketball: 12 Keys for Wildcats to Compete in the Big East

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    Villanova has dropped its first two Big East games and sit at 7-7 on the season.  Over the past month, things haven't looked good for the Wildcats. 

    In the last 30 days Villanova has lost five of seven games.  The only teams they've been able to handle are Boston University and American University.  Basically they have only proven capable of beating bad teams that can't compete athletically with them.

    If Villanova wants to compete in the rugged Big East some things need to change and some things need to improve.  Here are Villanova's 12 keys to have any success within the conference.

1. Mouphtaou Yarou

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    One thing Villanova has lacked during Jay Wright's tenure is a true big man.  Mouphtaou Yarou has all the ability in the world to fill that void.

    At 6'10" and 255 pounds, Yarou has legitimate size in the Big East.  He also has dazzling athleticism and skill.

    The problem comes with his awareness, desire and discipline.

    In two Big East games he is averaging 13.5 points and 7.0 rebounds and is shooting 64.7 percent from the field.  The problem is, he is only taking 8.5 shots per game.

    Yarou needs to start getting position on the block and demanding the ball.  He can give them a dimension they have not had in a long time.

2. Maalik Wayns

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    On a team with no seniors, Wayns is one of three juniors.  As the starting point guard, he is the de-facto leader.

    Wayns has played very good basketball for the most part and is an unbelievable distributor.  He routinely creates wide open shots for his teammates.

    The only problem is, his teammates can't shoot. 

    Wayns needs to play within himself, slow down on offense and make smart decisions.  He is shooting just 25.4 percent from three-point range so he needs to start trying to score from 18 feet and in.

    Wayns is capable of carrying his team by just playing his game and not trying to do too much.

3. Team Basketball

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    While Yarou and Wayns were high-level recruits, they aren't players who can dominate every night against the best teams in the conference.

    This is clearly not Jay Wright's best or most talented team, but it could be the deepest from top to bottom.

    They have nine players averaging 12 minutes per game or more, and on many nights, 10 players get significant playing time.

    They are a long and athletic group that has trouble with making threes and stopping opponents from making them.

    They need to share the ball on offense and get quality shots.  Defensively they need to be disciplined, stay in position and provide help. 

    They give up far too many wide open three-point shots and easy lay-ups.

4. Play Smart

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    One of the key components in Villanova's recent slide is a lack of smart and disciplined basketball.

    It's common to see their big men commit fouls 60 feet from the basket.  It's common to see teams abuse their full court press.  It's common to see their best players in foul trouble.  It's common to see Villanova fail to block out and give up second-chance points. 

    It is far too common to see teams zip the ball around Villanova's half court defense and get easy baskets.  It's even more common to see the Wildcats just waste possessions.

    Villanova is a young team, but at some point you have to play smart basketball and play the right way. 

    Jay Wright's friend Larry Brown must have a hard time watching this season.

5. Play to Their Strengths

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    Against top competition Villanova struggles mightily to score. 

    Against both West Virginia and Marquette they were in the game for about 30 minutes.  In both games they failed to keep pace and their opponents ran away from them.  The same thing has happened against every good opponent they've played.

    The main problem is trying to play a game they are incapable of playing.

    They have a center who can score around the basket and shoot from 15 feet out but they don't give him the ball. They shoot 30.3 percent from three-point range but attempt 21.4 threes per game.

    They do shoot 76.2 percent from the free-throw line.  They would be best served to use their athleticism to get to the rim and draw contact.  For some reason they refuse to do it.

6. Dominic Cheek

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    Dominic Cheek has been a microcosm of Villanova's offensive woes.

    An athletic wing, he makes 53.6 percent of his two-point attempts and shoots 87.5 percent from the foul line.  His three-point percentage is 29.5.  Despite those numbers, almost 60 percent of his shots come from three-point range.

    Cheek is not a three-point shooter but he insists on launching 5.6 attempts per game.

    Cheek is a very good wing defender and a good rebounder.  He is dangerous in the open floor as well.  Cheek needs to stop shooting from deep and start making the most of his ability.

7. Cultivate Roles

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    With 10 players getting consistent playing time, Jay Wright is doing a lot of shuffling.  With so much youth on the team, Wright is trying to figure out his best combinations.

    At some point this season, for Villanova to win its share of games, they need to define set roles for each player.

    On offense, there appears to be no flow or organization.  The same applies on the defensive end.

    Villanova needs to decide who are their main ball handlers, who are their scorers, who are there defenders, who plays on the perimeter and who plays inside.

    It would help to find a consistent starting unit and define a set rotation.  Once every player knows exactly what is expected of him the young roster will start to play more consistent basketball.

8. Markus Kennedy

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    Villanova has had trouble finding big men and now it appears that they found two.  As good as Yarou could be, Kennedy seems to have a natural sense of the game.

    Wright has brought him along slowly, but he has shown great promise already.

    In Villanova's first two Big East games, Kennedy has acquitted himself well.  He's played a total of 40 minutes and scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting.  He's also grabbed 19 rebounds and blocked five shots.

    Kennedy should earn more playing time and his presence down low should help them raise their game.

9. Aggressiveness

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    One of the symptoms in Villanova's month-long epidemic has been a lack of aggression.

    That doesn't mean they are lacking effort because this team plays hard.  They just have had a tendency to stand around and wait for something to happen.

    Against good basketball team you need to make something happen.

    Offensively, too many players seem content to stand around the three-point line and shoot as soon as the ball is in their hands.  They should be getting the ball inside and taking it to the defense.

    On the other end, they are slow to rotate and are caught on their heels far too often.  They need to close out better on shooters and attack the glass with more gusto. 

10. Confidence

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    As mentioned earlier, Villanova has played well for the first 30 minutes in each of their two Big East games.  In the final 10 minutes, the wheels have come off.

    Some of that comes from flawed execution but a lot of it comes from a lack of confidence.

    As soon as things start to go wrong this group has trouble putting the ball in the basket.  It's almost as if they stop believing they can keep up.  They don't appear to be in control on offense and that affects their ability to be productive.

    The young Wildcats need to figure out what works.  Once they do that they can start putting entire games together and possibly knock off some top teams.

11. Experience

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    With five freshmen and a sophomore getting significant playing time, Villanova may not be ready to truly compete just yet.

    The Big East in its current form is not for the faint of heart.  On paper they look like they could have their most well-rounded group with a great combination of size and athleticism.

    Unfortunately, they haven't been able to play up to their talent level because they are just not ready for the stage they have been thrust upon.

    They will need to go through some battles and develop the required grit and toughness.  If they continue to get regular minutes this group may be a sleeper when the Big East Tournament rolls around.

12. Jay Wright

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    Jay Wright is the absolute key to Villanova's ability to compete.  Ultimately all of the other 11 keys wrest on Wright's shoulders.

    He has a young group with three juniors in Wayns, Cheek and Yarou.  He needs to coax more out of those three while he teaches the young kids what is necessary to play Villanova basketball.

    Wright has a successful and winning track record.  Morale in the program is at its lowest point in his tenure, but he has a lot to work with.

    If he can get this team to play sound defense and smart offense, they have the talent to play with anyone.  Somehow Wright needs to get this team to play its game and stop shooting so much from the outside.

    If Wright can round this team into shape by the end of the month, they have a chance to play their way into the NCAA Tournament.