Villanova Basketball: Wildcats' Biggest Reasons for Optimism in 2014-15

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistMay 20, 2014

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 22: Ryan Arcidiacono #15 of the Villanova Wildcats passes the ball as Ryan Boatright #11 of the Connecticut Huskies defends during the third round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the First Niagara Center on March 22, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

The Villanova Wildcats will enter the 2014-15 season as the defending champions of the Big East Conference and as the favorites to win it again thanks to a strong group of returnees. 

Jay Wright's team will lose just one key contributor in James Bell, who graduated this spring, and add more depth with the development of young players. 

Villanova will bring in two new players in Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges to replace Bell and reserve guard Tony Chennault, but it is the return of star players such as Ryan Arcidiacono who should give fans of the program a ton of optimism heading into next season. 

Joining Arcidiacono as returning cast members from the 2013-14 season are Darrun Hilliard, JayVaughn Pinkston, Daniel Ochefu, Kris Jenkins, Josh Hart and Dylan Ennis. 

With a rotation of seven players already in place for next season, all that is left to be determined is what roles those players will fit into.

We already know that Arcidiacono will be counted on to be the maestro at the point guard position, while Hilliard is expected to continue his growth as a player this offseason to make the backcourt more well-rounded than it already was. 

BUFFALO, NY - MARCH 20:  Darrun Hilliard II #4 of the Villanova Wildcats goes to the basket as Austin Arians #34 and Malcolm Moore #4 of the Milwaukee Panthers defend during the second round of the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the First Niagar
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Pinkston and Ochefu are expected to once again be the bruisers in the paint to give the Wildcats a starting five that should be feared in conference play.

The only thing that is up in the air about the starting five at the moment is who will replace Bell on the court. 

Luckily for Wright and the Wildcats, that answer will be either Jenkins or Hart, both of whom impressed as last season progressed. 

Jenkins is the better defensive player of the two, which could give him the nod given Bell's defensive contributions during his senior campaign. 

VILLANOVA, PA - MARCH 2: Forward Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats falls into the stands during the game against the Marquetter Golden Eagles on March 2, 2014 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennslyvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty I
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Regardless of who takes over the fifth starting position, both players are in line to become stars at Villanova during their sophomore seasons. 

Add in Ennis, who will have more familiarity with his teammates on the court in 2014-15, and the talented pair of Booth and Bridges, and you have a collective group of players that cannot be matched from one to nine in the conference. 

Another major reason for optimism next season is that the Wildcats will be going up against a weakened Creighton team for the Big East regular-season title. 

Last season, the Bluejays were the Achilles' heel of the Wildcats, but with key contributors Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge now gone, the team that destroyed Villanova on two occasions will carry less talent than it did in the 2013-14 campaign. 

OMAHA, NE - FEBRUARY 16: Ethan Wragge #34 of the Creighton Bluejays and Daniel Ochefu #23 of the Villanova Wildcats fights for position during their game at CenturyLink Center on February 16, 2014 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

The rest of the Big East is not expected to be as good as Villanova, either, with a significant talent drop-off expected between the Wildcats and the rest of the conference. 

St. John's could be a potential challenger, but we have said that about the Red Storm for the last few years, and they haven't delivered on their expectations under head coach Steve Lavin yet. 

Xavier will also be a contender for the Big East title, but it lost Semaj Christon, who averaged 17 points per game in his sophomore season, to the NBA draft. 

When you put all of those factors together, there is no doubt that the Wildcats will be the favorites to win the conference, which means there will be plenty of optimism around when basketball season kicks off again in November.


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.