The Wildcats have been giving Wright headaches for the past two years.
Under head coach Jay Wright, Villanova basketball has seen a renaissance of sorts. Since Wright took over in the 2001-02 season, he has led them to a 229-113 record.
He’s brought them to seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances and has a 12-7 tournament record. Wright led them to a Final Four in 2009, an Elite Eight in 2006 and two Sweet 16s.
This year's team could bring an end to that streak. Here is why.
Pinkston is one of four freshmen Villanova will be leaning on this year.
One of the fabled things in Wildcats basketball is the “Villanova Senior.” In most successful Jay Wright seasons, they have had at least one senior to provide leadership, toughness and stability.
Even in seasons without a senior leader, they have had juniors who were part of highly successful teams. That is not the case this year.
Villanova is now relying on juniors Maalik Wayns, Mouphtaou Yarou and Dominic Cheek, who just don’t seem prepared to lead. They are also counting on a sophomore who barely played last season in James Bell and four incoming freshmen.
JayVaughn Pinkston, Darrun Hilliard, Achraf Yacoubou and Markus Kennedy are all in the rotation this year. Coach Wright is hoping for some immediate returns.
Dwayne Anderson and Danted Cunningham (33) led Villanova to a Sweet 16 and a Final 4 as seniors in 2009.
This could be confused with youth, but it is something altogether different. From 2005-2009, Villanova lasted until the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend three times. During that stretch, they played in 16 tournament games, going 11-5.
That winning tradition was passed from class to class, but this year’s juniors have only played in three tournament games and lost two of them. There is no real winning tradition with this group. How will they learn to win?
All they know at this point is late-season collapses. They ended 2010 with three wins in their last 10 games, and 2011 saw them lose their final six. They have only won 11 of their last 26 games against Big East opponents.
Giving up another easy basket with undisciplined defense.
For some reason, the last two years at Villanova have shown a lot of frustration within the ranks. Key players piling up early fouls, poor shot selection, sloppy passing and a lack of awareness.
Last year, senior Corey Stokes shot 43.2 percent from three-point range, draining 89-of-206 attempts. That is good. Point guards Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns, though, heaved a combined 277 three-point shots despite only making 84, for 30.3 percent. Things haven’t changed much this year.
So far, Wayns and Dominic Cheek are the top three-point gunners and are shooting 32.5 and 27.3 percent, respectively. The shooting woes are almost welcome compared to all the times they let an offensive player get an uncontested put-back or commit fouls on three-point shots at the end of the shot clock.
Mouphtaou Yarou needs to play up to his talent and skill level.
There is no doubt that “Mouph” has a lot of talent. He has actually made some serious strides this season. But despite averaging 15.4 points and 8.4 rebounds per game, he is maddeningly frustrating.
With great size and athleticism, he teases you with potential. He seems like he should be able to score at will and shut down opposing offenses around the basket. But he doesn’t do it. He seems to tire too easily and lack basketball instincts.
He is reminiscent of a thicker-bodied Samuel Dalembert.
Wayns can't carry the the scoring load alone.
Villanova at one time was known for its frenetic guard play. The days of Randy Foye and Allan Ray are over. Kyle Lowry and Mike Nardi are no more. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes have moved on.
Maalik Wayns seems to be the only guard that can score consistently, but he doesn't shoot well from the outside. Teams can just protect the lane and keep him at bay. Even when Wayns can get to his spots and light up the scoreboard, he has no help.
Yarou spends too much time on the bench in foul trouble or gasping for air to help carry the load. Dominic Cheek is just too inconsistent to be relied upon. James Bell and Darrun Hilliard have shown some promise, but are just too young and inexperienced.
Cheek has failed to develop into a legitimate scoring threat.
Perhaps even more alarming than the youth and inexperience is the lack of development from the heralded recruiting class of 2009.
Wayns has been thrust into a leadership role by default. His toughness and desire are admirable, but he turns the ball over too much (1.42 assist-to-turnover ratio), and his stroke from the outside hasn’t improved.
Cheek and Yarou were actually the highest rated prospects, and while Yarou is putting up better numbers, he folds against top competition. Cheek contributed very little offensively in his first two years.
After putting up 22.0 points per game through the first three games this season, Cheek has only scored 36 total in his last five on 27.9 percent from the field.
Kyle Lowry epitomized the heart and toughness of previous Villanova teams.
For the first eight years of Jay Wright’s tenure, Villanova’s opponents knew they were going to be in for a battle. Hard-nosed, scrappy defense. Courageous and clutch offense. Tenacious effort and hustle on rebounds and loose balls.
Somewhere along the way, Villanova has lost that. Against inferior opponents, they generally outclass them and win the game. But against quality competition, they seem to just get outplayed far too often.
Granted, the Wildcats have a lot of young talent, and they could grow into a team by March. But with a 5-3 record through a mediocre schedule, and with two Big Five games and their entire Big East slate remaining, it will be a difficult climb.