Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: No. 18 Villanova
Villanova needed its pounding of Syracuse last season to make the NCAA Tournament. The Wildcats turned that trip to the NCAA Tournament that almost didn't happen into a Sweet 16 performance.
Coach Jay Wright returns his top seven scorers to a team that won 22 games last season. The only player who won't return for 2009 is guard Malcolm Grant who transferred after seeing just 12 minutes per game.
Grant struggled to find time on the court because of the incredible talent and depth the Wildcats have in the backcourt.
Junior guard Scottie Reynolds returns as one of the most dynamic guards in the Big East and the country. If Reynolds continues to improve during his final two years in Philadelphia AND doesn't leave early for the NBA, the junior should finish as the Wildcats' all-time leading scorer.
Reynolds has already cross the 1000 point plateau and should finish the 2009 season between 1600-1700 points, leaving him just over 500 points away from Kerry Kittles's school record of 2243 points.
Scoring may be Reynolds' forte, but at times he can be wildly inconsistent. He's almost as likely to score four points (three times in 2008) as 25 points (four times).
While many guards may struggle with the three-point pushed back by a foot, Reynolds will continue to torch teams from distance. A 38 percent three-pointer shooter, Reynolds is fearless 20 feet from the basket. His ability to shoot sets himself up to take the ball to the rim with similar success.
Reynolds will always have a dangerous shooter to kick to on the perimeter when he drives in Jay Wright's three or even four guard motion offense.
VU has a tandem of sophomore guards name Corey. The Corey's, Stokes and Fisher, both entered school as highly touted guards. Both made impacts on a game-to-game basis, but neither stayed in the spotlight all season.
Fisher put up the better numbers, 9.1 ppg and 2.7 apg, but it's Stokes that will most likely find himself in the starting lineup on opening night. Stokes brings more size to a very undersized roster.
The Wildcats have just one player who'll see playing time that stands above 6'8''. 6'10'' Casiem Drummond has battled injuries and hasn't played to his potential yet, but the junior will come off the bench to provide size against bigger lineups.
Jay Wright will look towards senior Dante Cunningham to play in the middle, but at 6'8'' he lacks the size to rebound against the numerous centers in the Big East that will tower over him. Cunningham led 'Nova in rebounding last season at just 6.5 boards per game.
Also on the frontline will be rising sophomore Antonio Pena. The second year forward reached double-digits in points nines in Big East play after only surpassing that mark twice in the non-conference slate.
The final member of the 'Nova starting lineup is Dwayne Anderson. The senior is finally starting to come into his own. It took him 22 games to score at least ten points, but once he did, Anderson scored at least 10 points six times.
Off the bench lies one of Villanova's biggest enigmas. Two years ago senior Shane Clark looked like he might be able to fill Curtis Sumpter's shoes pretty well when Sumpter graduated. But last year, Clark's first chance to shine, he struggled mightily.
Clark opened the season with six games of at least 13 points in his first nine games, but only scored at least 13 one more time.
Shane Clark could ultimately be the deciding factor in whether this team makes a deep run in the NCAA Tournament or struggles to even make the dance.
The remaining contributor is junior Reggie Redding. He's a wing who might find his way into the starting lineup potentially, but overall Redding isn't a game changer, just a guard who can give Jay Wright some quality minutes.
Predictions as well as best and worst case scenarios after the jump.
Best Case Scenario
Villanova reached the Sweet 16 last year for a reason. With all of its key players back, 'Nova continues to build chemistry and uses its veteran experience to take down several top tier teams in the Big East on the way to 12 win season in the conference.
The Wildcats can enter conference play with just one loss to Texas. The only other two losable games come against Big Five opponents Temple and St. Joes. City games always provide a tough test, but 'Nova should come out on top this year.
Villanova reaches the Elite Eight behind a Scottie Reynolds hot streak.
Worst Case Scenario
'Nova shows why it needed a win in the Big East Tournament last year to make the NCAA Tournament and doesn't take a big step forward in 2009. Teams exploit the fact the Wildcats are tremendously undersized and get bullied underneath the basket.
VU limps into the NCAA Tournament as a 12 seed and is promptly bounced in the opening round.
What Will Happen
Villanova's appearance in the Sweet 16 was a product of getting 13 seed Siena in the second round. The Wildcats will be a better team in 2009, but Villanova will make the second round where they will be knocked out.
Scottie Reynolds finishes the season as one of the best guards in the Big East and goes pro falling about 500 points short of the school record.
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