By Michael Guise
Villanova exceeded all expectations this year and finished with 29 wins and a lengthy stay in the top 10.
The Wildcats, who were picked fourth in the Preseason Big East Coaches’ Poll, surprised everyone and won the Big East Regular Season title for the first time since 2005-2006. They also were ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll, which was their highest since the 2009-2010 season.
The Wildcats earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and were ousted in the third round by UConn in a heartbreaking end to an otherwise great season.
The Wildcats won 22 of their first 24 games. They were led by Big 5 player of the year James Bell. The 6-foot-6 guard, who averaged nearly 15 points per game and six rebounds, put the team on his back during his final year at school and led the team to the most regular season and conference wins in program history.
Bell, who also earned All-Big East First Team honors, was the engine that kept the team moving all season. He and JayVaughn Pinkston, All-Big East Second Team and Big 5 First team, manned the paint for the Wildcats. Pinkston averaged 14 points per game and 6 rebounds per game. Bell, Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu, 6 rebounds per game, helped the Wildcats rank in the Top 40 nationally in defensive rebounds.
All three had over 100 defensive rebounds and over 200 total rebounds. They allowed the Wildcats to play inside out and use their sharp shooters on the perimeter. Bell himself was able to play both in the paint and on the perimeter. He knocked down a team high 85 three pointers.
Guard’s Darrun Hilliard (Big East Honorable Mention and Second Team Big 5) and Ryan Arcidiacono (Big East Honorable Mention and Second Team Big 5) led the team from the three point line. Hilliard hit 70 three pointers while Arcidiacono hit 59. The trio allowed the Wildcats to be ranked first in three pointers attempted and second in three pointers made and three point percentage.
Overall the Wildcats were ranked in the top 10 nationally in 22 different categories. The team came into the season with no expectations and exceed in a year no one saw coming. A preseason win over Kansas and the Battle for Atlantis was the jumping point for the team. Arcidiacono, who hadn’t made a shot all game, hit the game winning three pointer with 10 seconds to put the Wildcats ahead of the No. 2 Jayhawks. The Wildcats rode the momentum from the big win for the rest of the season.
The Wildcats will be losing Bell to graduation, along with guard Tony Chennault, who averaged over 14 minutes per game and guard Nick McMahon who averaged less than three minutes per game.
Other than that, the Wildcats are expecting everyone to return, barring any unexpected NBA draft declarations.
The Wildcats will have high expectations next year. They will have an experienced team that will be looking to regain the success they had. Freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins will be expected to take on a bigger role and build off their solid freshmen years. Hart, who averaged over 21 minutes per game and 4.4 points/rebounds per game, will most likely slide into the starting lineup and replace Bell. The Wildcats have two ESPN 100 recruits coming in next season. Mikal Bridges (small forward, No. 82 overall) and Phil Booth (point guard, No. 92 overall) will have to fight for playing time on a upperclassmen loaded roster.