Villanova Basketball: Grading Each Wildcat's Performance Last Week

Ron Pasceri@@RonPasceriCorrespondent IIJanuary 23, 2012

Villanova Basketball: Grading Each Wildcat's Performance Last Week

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    After having lost 10 of their previous 14 games, Villanova had its best week since late November. For the first time all season, they beat a really good team in Seton Hall. Also for the first time, they won a game on the road, at St. John's.

    Better still, for the first time in two months, the Wildcats won back-to-back games.

    In recent weeks, Villanova hung tough in losses at West Virginia, at Marquette and at Cincinnati. They were starting to look like a team that could compete, and last week they finally got over the hump.

    They did it with defense and rebounding. Tenacity and effort. Two staples of Wildcat basketball under Jay Wright.

    They held their opponents to a combined 42 percent shooting from the field and 30.8 percent from three-point range. They also forced 32 combined turnovers. They played tough on-ball defense, and have drastically improved at closing out on shooters. They did a great job contesting shots and disrupting passing lanes.

    On offense, they continued to be a little shaky shooting the ball, but they made up for it with aggression. They got to the free-throw line 41 times against Seton Hall and 26 times against St. John's. They knocked down a solid 73 percent from the line.

    They also pounded the offensive glass, with 39 offensive rebounds over the two games. They converted those rebounds into a total of 36 second-chance points.

    Most important is how Villanova is developing as a team, but here is how each player performed last week.

Maalik Wayns, Junior, Point Guard: A

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    Villanova entered the season needing Maalik Wayns to take the torch that was passed from Randy Foye to Mike Nardi to Corey Fisher. After struggling to be the leader, he has finally lit the fuse.

    With the Wildcats turning into an afterthought this season, Wayns' tremendous play will likely go unnoticed, but he deserves some recognition.

    Wayns averaged 26.5 points per game last week, plus 5.0 assists and 3.5 rebounds.

    He only hit 2-of-10 threes, but he hit an amazing 21-of-23 free throws.

    Wayns just knows when to put the team on his back, and he has found a way to get it done the last two games. With the way he is playing over the past three weeks, Wayns is reaching the level of his predecessors.

Mouphtaou Yarou, Junior, Center: C

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    Mouphtaou Yarou had a tough week offensively. He seemed uncomfortable with the ball, and only scored six points on 3-of-12 shooting for the week.

    What he did do was provide a physical presence inside.

    Yarou had a steal and a block in each game and hounded Herb Pope and Moe Harkless on defense. He also pulled down a total of 18 rebounds, including nine offensive rebounds.

    For this team to make any type of run he needs to provide offense, but Yarou did his job and then some last week.

Dominic Cheek, Junior, Guard/Forward: B+

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    Dominic Cheek is a high-effort player who plays hard defense and goes all out when he is on the court. The problems with Cheek have mainly been on the offensive end.

    He shoots a ton of threes and long jumpers, which seem to be his weakness at this point. But he played more aggressively on offense last week and it showed in his results.

    Aside from playing tough perimeter defense, Cheek averaged 14.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He also had three steals and four assists. More impressively, he got to the line 12 times in two games, knocking down nine.

    Against St. John's, Cheek served as a catalyst for a 10-point comeback, scoring 10 of Villanova's final 20 points.

James Bell, Sophomore, Guard: B

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    James Bell was reinserted into the starting lineup, and he gave Villanova a big boost on both ends of the floor.

    Against Seton Hall, Bell was a huge contributor, scoring 18 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 4-of-8 on threes. He also added six rebounds and a steal.

    In Madison Square Garden, Bell shot just 4-of-16, but he managed to hit a huge three in overtime to stretch Villanova's lead.

    He did score 10 points, added another six rebounds and he seemed to be everywhere on defense, totaling four steals.

    Bell's size, toughness and energy are a significant weapon for the Wildcats.

JayVaughn Pinkston, Freshman, Forward: A

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    Of all the positives for Villanova the past few weeks, JayVaughn Pinkston has to be at the top of the list.

    Villanova is a team that has struggled to score and been passive on offense, settling for outside shots. JayVaughn Pinkston has changed that.

    Pinkston has shown an offensive game that is a tremendous combination of athleticism and power. Pinkston is catching the ball on the wing, taking defenders off the bounce and showing a nice array of spin, pivot and drop step moves around the rim.

    At 260 pounds, Pinkston is like a bull in a china shop down low.

    Last week, Pinkston notched double-doubles in both games. He averaged 18.0 points and 11.5 rebounds last week, shooting 52.4 percent from the field.

    He also got himself to the line 20 times, hitting 14 shots.

Markus Kennedy, Freshman, Forward/Center: C

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    Markus Kennedy has started to slow down after his promising start to the Big East season.

    His minutes have been very limited lately, but he still has a skill level and a basketball awareness that allows him to contribute.

    In 22 minutes last week, he scored just two points, but he did grab 10 rebounds.

    One of the most important plays of the week for Villanova came in overtime against St. John's.

    Maalik Wayns lost the ball in the lane. Kennedy scrambled to pick it up and instead of holding onto it in traffic, he immediately fired a pass to James Bell on the wing for a wide-open three.

    Bell knocked it down and the Wildcats were ahead for good. Most freshmen wouldn't have had the savvy to make that play. Kennedy did.

Darrun Hilliard, Freshman, Guard: B

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    Much like Kennedy last week, Darrun Hilliard has been playing very limited minutes. Last week, he managed to contribute anyway.

    In 16 minutes against Seton Hall, Hilliard scored eight points with two rebounds and two assists. He also his two big threes in the win.

    In just 11 minutes on Sunday against St. John's, he scored two points and grabbed a rebound and dished an assist. 

    More than anything else, Hilliard has played very under control and seems to be maturing as a player.

Ty Johnson, Freshman, Point Guard: C

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    Ty Johnson didn't get much of a chance last week.

    After a promising previous few games, he spent most of the last two games on the bench.

    In 16 minutes of action, he dished out three assists. That was all he was able to do though.

Jay Wright, Head Coach: A+

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    This has had to be a rough season for Jay Wright. He has made Villanova an NCAA tournament fixture and generally has them alive on the second weekend.

    This season, with three juniors, a sophomore and five freshmen, he has had to do more teaching than coaching. He has probably had to do more encouraging than he is accustomed to as well.

    Over the past month, despite wins and losses, he has been turning around the ship. Last week was further proof of that.

    The team is still struggling with their outside shooting, but they have improved in every other facet of the game.

    Villanova teams past have been known for their gritty play, and this young team is starting to show the same trait. Jay Wright is doing a great coaching job this season, and he gets a chance to prove it again on Wednesday night at Louisville.