Each elite Villanova team has a game-changing big man to complement Jay Wright's always outstanding stable of guards. The great Allan Ray teams had Curtis Sumpter. For three years, Scottie Reynolds had Dante Cunningham by his side.
In Reynolds' final year, Cunningham was gone to the NBA and for what it's worth forward Shane Clark's time in Philadelphia was also done.
That left Reynolds and fellow stud guards Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher without a dominant big man to clear some space in the lane. Frankly, Cunningham's replacement, Antonio Pena, isn't going to blow anybody away.
There is one player on Jay Wright's roster that can battle on the boards and win position in the paint. The problem is that one player is a freshman who missed most of non-conference play because of complications with Hepatitis B.
Mouphtaou Yarou entered Villanova as a top-25 recruit that had the potential to quickly make Wildcat fans forget about Cunningham.
After playing Villanova's first two games of the season, Yarou missed the next 11, but returned for the Wildcats' second Big East contest of the year.
The talented freshman hasn't done much in his three conference games with a total of eight points in 33 minutes, but Yarou showed great potential Monday night against Louisville.
The freshman forward entered the game early in the first half and had an immediate impact. During his first offensive possession, he assisted on a basket.
The next time he entered the game, Yarou slid towards the baseline as a help-side defender and blocked Jared Swopshire's shot in the process. The Louisville Cardinal grabbed his own rebound, but in doing so, he put himself in the position that made Yarou the primary defender.
Yarou immediately recognized this.
He established perfect defensive position on the baseline and extended his hands straight into the air. At this point, he allowed his teammate to be the help defender and go after the block. Swopshire was forced to alter his shot and badly missed.
Yarou promptly ran the floor to beat his defender to the correct post position and drew a foul.
That sequence of basketball makes Yarou look like a star upperclassmen.
However, Yarou isn't a star upperclassmen. He isn't even a star freshman, yet.
There were moments where Yarou looked like he didn't belong on a court with a Rick Pitino-coached team.
During his first stint on the floor, Yarou initially made the right move with the basketball. Realizing he had a smaller defender guarding the 14 feet between him and the basket, the freshman took the ball to the hoop. The problem? The defender stopped in his tracks.
At that point, Yarou should have shot an eight-foot pull up jumper over the small defender; instead, he continued straight to the basket and had a player control foul called against him.
There was also the time in the second half Yarou received the defensive assignment to guard Samardo Samuels, which ended terribly. Samuels had his back to the basket, made a basic fake in one direction, Yarou bit badly, and Samuel turned the other direction for an easy basket.
Yarou struggled with foul trouble as well (though in his defense everyone struggled with foul trouble Monday night, even the cotton candy vendors were getting whistled).
While most of the 60-some fouls called Monday night were necessary fouls, Yarou's came from mental mistakes and inexperience. On consecutive possessions, Yarou picked up fouls because he couldn't establish solid defensive position in the post. He had to bail himself out by grabbing his opponent which in a tightly called game were obviously going to be called.
As a result, Yarou's time on the floor was limited to 14 minutes. Coach Wright planned to use him for 20-25, but Yarou's inexperience made that impossible.
As the season progresses, those mental mistakes against high level Big East competition will decrease. Yarou's great footwork, moves with the basketball, and athleticism will eventually shine through.
When they do, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes will have a reliable big man that should make their fifth ranked offense even more efficient.
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