Villanova Coach Jay Wright knows his team can be a little two-faced at times, and he's not all that worried about it. Yet. The Wildcats return a starting lineup mostly full of experienced players. Last season, Villanova went 30-8 and marched all the way to the Final Four. Though they lost three seniors off that squad, the Wildcats return four players who saw significant minutes during the team's run last March.
Wright also added into the mix a highly touted recruiting class, some of which was expected to make immediate impacts. And so Wright, in his ninth season at Villanova, is faced with a team of two extremes -- those with a lot of experience and those with none.
"At times on the floor we can look like an experienced team, and then there are times on the floor when we can look like a rag-tag, inexperienced team," Wright said Friday in a phone interview. "And that's really what this early season has been for us is to try to develop some chemistry where we can have to two or three experienced guys on the floor and maybe two freshmen at a time. When we get those lineups where we have four freshmen on the floor at one time we can look a little sloppy. We've got some talent, but we can look sloppy."
No. 3 Villanova is off to a 7-0 start, including victories over Dayton and Ole Miss, as well as a close win over George Mason. The Wildcats have a little bit of size, but mostly remain a guard-oriented squad.
Senior guard Scottie Reynolds (6-foot-2, 190 lbs.) is the face of the program, a guy Wright called "a legend on campus." He was named Big East rookie of the year three seasons ago after arriving from Herndon, Va. Reynolds, the team's leading scorer, made the basket that sent Villanova to the Final Four last season. He is averaging 13.9 points per game while shooting 37.8 percent from the field and 25.0 percent (8 for 32) from three-point range. He has tallied 25 assists and 19 turnovers.
"The final piece of his career is really just to have ownership of a team, and this is his team," Wright said. "These young guys look up to him. He rode to summer workouts with these guys during the summer, he takes the freshmen into the film room. That's the final piece for him is to kind of own a team. That's really all we're asking of him this year is to make this your team. Make these guys play like you."
Joining Reynolds in the Wildcats' backcourt are junior guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes. Fisher (6-foot-1, 200 lbs.) runs the point and has a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio thus far (30 assists; 15 turnovers). He is averaging 11.9 points per game and is shooting 33.9 percent from the field. He also has recorded a team-high 15 steals.
Stokes (6-foot-5, 220 lbs.) is averaging 10.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He is shooting 37.5 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three-point range.
"Last year they could be a little inconsistent because we had the depth," Wright said of Fisher and Stokes. "They came off the bench and we had seniors in Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson and Dante Cunningham. Those seniors were rocks for us. We knew what we could get every night out of them. And Corey and Corey could come off the bench and get hot and really help us. And then some nights they could come in and if they weren't hitting, we could go right back to the seniors. But now they have to be the rocks; they have to be the guys that are consistent every night."
Another player Wright is counting on is junior forward Antonio Pena (6-foot-8, 235 lbs.), especially in light of the recent development regarding freshman forward Mouphtaou Yarou. Pena is averaging 13.4 points and 10.6 rebounds per game. He is shooting 58.2 percent from the field.
"Antonio, as a junior now, really is developing into a go-to player," Wright said. "He's been a double-double guy. He always showed signs. He started some games last year, but again, it's the consistency of an upperclassman. He just brings it every night."
Yarou (6-foot-10, 250 lbs.), who played at Montrose Christian, recently contracted hepatitis B and is out indefinitely. He had been starting for the Wildcats, and Wright lauded Yarou's ability to rebound and establish a post presence on both ends of the court, "even as a young guy."
With Yarou out, redshirt freshman forward Maurice Sutton (6-foot-11, 215 lbs.) assumed a spot in the starting lineup. Sutton is averaging 4.0 points and 4.4 rebounds. He also has tallied 14 blocks.
"We redshirted him last year, but he just came in and has really been a great chemistry guy for us," Wright said. "He's smart offensively. He takes care of the basketball. He's a shot-blocker. He rebounds well. He's a great team defensive player."
Villanova's top producer off the bench is sophomore forward Taylor King (6-foot-6, 230 lbs.), who sat out last season after transferring from Duke. King is averaging 11.3 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. A noted long-range shooter, King has connected on 48.3 percent (14 for 29) of his attempts from heyond the arc. He also has recorded 10 steals.
"I think everyone knows him as a shooter, but where he's really helped us is he's a much better rebounder than people know," Wright said. "And he's also got a great passion for the game. When he comes in the game, the energy level goes up immediately."
The Wildcats' other options off the bench include freshmen guards Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. Wayns (6-foot-1, 185 lbs.) is averaging 6.7 points per game, while Cheek (6-foot-6, 185 lbs.) is averaging 5.3 points per game. Freshman forward Isaiah Armwood (6-foot-7, 205 lbs.), who also played at Montrose Christian, is averaging 2.2 points per game.
The Wildcats are without the services of senior guard Reggie Redding (6-foot-5, 205) for all games during the fall semester due to a university-mandated suspension. Redding, known as a lock-down defender, started 22 games last season and was expected to play a key role for Villanova this season. But he was arrested over the summer and charged with possession of a small amount of marijuana and drug paraphenilia.
As a team, Villanova is shooting 43.3 percent from the field and 34.2 percent from three-point range. The Wildcats own a +8.1 rebounding margin.
"We've been a small team and so we've always known that as a small team we have to rebound as a team," Wright said. "We've got to gang rebound. We take pride in that. This group, we do have some size. We'll put some lineups on the floor where we have Maurice Sutton at 6-11 and Antonio Pena at 6-8 and Taylor King at 6-6. So we can have some good size at times with this group, and we are becoming a better rebounding team."
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