Villanova In the Hunt to Return to Big Dance

Story posted March 9, 2013 in CommRadio, Sports by Matthew Stainthorpe

Villanova had a seven year run of making the NCAA tournament with top recruiting classes and a Final Four appearance in 2008. Then in 2011-12 it all collapsed. The Wildcat’s streak was over, as they failed to make the big dance for the first time since 2004 with a record of 13-19.

Coming off the season of disappointment, critics picked them to finish in the bottom five of the Big East at the start of this season. That made sense. The team was going through a lot changes with many departures to replace.  

The players leaving included, top scorers Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek, who both went to play professionally. On top of that, sophomores Tyrone Johnson and Markus Kennedy, each decided to transfer knowing that their minutes would be limited if they chose to stay.

So, Coach Jay Wright went to search for answers to give his team the best chance to make another splash back into the NCAA tournament.

First Wright had to find replacements. He recruited two top local prospects in point guard Ryan Arcidiacono and power forward Daniel Ochefu.

Then, international star Mislav Brzoja joined the Cats, after his Northwestern commitment fall through.

Wright did not stop there as he went fishing into the transfer pool catching two point guards: Tony Chennault from Wake Forest and Dylan Ennis from Rice.

 With all the new additions, five players from the previous year chose to remain with the team. Those included senior center Mouphtaou Yarou, junior James bell, sophomores JayVaughn Pinkston and Achraf Yacoubou, along with redshirt senior Maurice Sutton.

 The Wildcats began the season defeating a Purdue team in controversial fashion, eventually winning in an overtime thriller.

Then as a young team with only two seniors, Villanova began to struggle, making key mistakes and showing a lack of discipline on both sides of the ball.

 Their lack of experience especially showed in a game on their home floor, the Pavilion, against the University of Columbia. Columbia was seen as the underdog, but three balls were falling from all angles as Colombia demolished Nova 75-57, exposing their weakness to defend the perimeter.

Nova got back on track winning close games down the stretch. They would also find out that their home away from home, the Wells Fargo Center, would become their happy place, shocking the world with three huge upsets against top five teams.

First stealing victories over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse in the same week and then played stellar defense to snap No. 5 Georgetown’s 11 game winning streak. They also added a huge win against No. 21 Marquette at the Pavilion.

Throughout this crazy season, the Wildcats were led in the backcourt by Arcidacono and Darrun Hilliard both averaging double figures in scoring. In the front court it has been all Yarou, who has become a rebounding machine down in the low post as of late averaging approximately 11 rebounds a game in his last five.

The biggest exclamation point on this team is none other than the sixth man, Pinkston. He is a game changer and very versatile as he can shoot from outside, as well as mix it up in the paint. Not to mention, he also leads the team with 12.4 points per game coming off the bench.

 Now concluding the regular season going 19-12 overall and 10-8 in the Big East, Nova has a huge chance to make the big dance. History is on their side as 94 percent of Big East teams in the past that have won ten games or more in conference play have made the field.

Still it depends on what they do in the conference tournament, but will they have enough on their resume when it is all said and done with many teams waiting to burst their bubble. Two of those teams are Big 5 rivals in LaSalle and Temple, who both beat Nova earlier this Season.

This will set the stage, as the Wildcats will have to sit tight on the bubble and await their fate after the conference tournament as anything can happen within the wackiness that is Selection Sunday.

Matthew Stainthorpe is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email