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by Angie Matarozzi

The leaves on the trees are changing, the temperature is dropping and there is a certain telltale tingle of excitement in the air. It’s college basketball season.

There is a specific excitement geared towards this year’s men basketball team, which recorded a handful of thrilling victories last season and returned Jay Wright’s program back to where it belongs: The NCAA Tournament.

After the disappointing 2011-2012 season and the loss of Maalik Wayns to the NBA draft, it seemed unlikely that Villanova would emerge to compete in the 2013 Big Dance. However, last year’s squad seemed to possess a key component that was absent from the previous year: team chemistry.

Despite the loss of last year’s center and fan favorite, Mouphtaou Yarou, four players out of the starting five will return for the 2013-2014 season. With the substantial additions of Creighton, Xavier and Butler as well as the departure of Pittsburgh, Louisville and Syracuse, Villanova is set to compete in the inaugural year of the new Big East Conference.

Particularly within the Villanova community, expectations are high for the Wildcats, who will look to build on the momentum generated from last year and assert themselves as a top contender in the renewed Catholic school conference.

Recap of Last Season 

Although projected to finish 12th in the Big East, Wright’s team upset expectations last year by recording several substantial victories and making the tournament. The Wildcats were able to rebound from an embarrassing 19-point loss to Columbia in late November at the Pavilion.

Villanova went on to upset last year’s National Champions, the Louisville Cardinals, as well as a No. 3-ranked Syracuse team in the same week. Who could forget storming the court at the Wells Fargo Center twice within five days?

These back-to-back victories were possibly the biggest wins for Villanova since 2009, when Scottie Reynolds scored his infamous buzzer beater against Pittsburgh to send Villanova to the Final Four.

With the added electrifying presence of freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono at the point position combined with a break out year from Darrun Hilliard, the 2012-2013 squad was arguably more talented than the team led by Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek of the previous year.

Villanova finished up the regular season by defeating Georgetown and limiting Big East player of the year, Otto Porter Jr., to just six for 16 on shooting. The Georgetown victory seemed to be the team’s ticket to the Big Dance: Villanova subsequently received the No. 9 seed and were set to play the North Carolina Tar Heels in the first round of the tournament.

However, rather anticlimactically, the season came to an abrupt end when ’Nova was defeated by a score of 78-71.

Fresh Faces of 2013 

There are four notable new additions to Wright’s roster this year.

Let’s start with 6-foot-8 freshman power forward Darryl Reynolds. We all know Wright loves to recruit those Philly boys, and Reynolds hails from Lower Merion High School, right off Lancaster Avenue.

Reynolds’ size and athleticism could get him a decent amount of minutes off the bench considering that Wright will otherwise be playing a good deal of small ball after the departure of his two centers, Maurice Sutton and Yarou.

Reynolds will function as sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu’s backup post presence in the ensuing season.

Fellow freshman forward Kris Jenkins and freshman guard Josh Hart were both recruited from the D.C. area, graduating from Gonzaga and Sidwell Friends, respectively. Jenkins is a 6-foot-6 who will possibly contribute as a perimeter player due to his quality three-point shooting abilities.

Hart is the true guard out of the bunch: standing at 6-foot-5,  Josh contributes a solid midrange offensive game and a strong defensive presence.

He will compete with veterans James Bell and Hilliard for minutes on the wing.

Lastly, the buzz redshirt sophomore guard Dylan Ennis has generated since his flashy performance in the dunk contest last year will be finally be put the test.

Ennis, who sat out the 2012-2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules, will take the court for the first time since playing his freshman season at Rice University.

Ennis spent his second consecutive summer playing for the Jamaican National Basketball Team and is rumored to be an explosive scoring guard. Alongside Arcidiacono and senior guard Tony Chennault, Ennis will provide ball handling depth in the backcourt.

Key Returners 

Sophomore point guard Ryan Arcidiacono will return to the Wildcat roster following a stellar freshman year.  Arcidiacono averaged, 11.9 ppg, 3.5 assists per game, and shot just over 80 percent from the free-throw line.

Arcidiacono seems to have emerged as the face of the current Villanova basketball program. Keys to his performance this year: cut down on turnovers, increase field goal percentage and let Arch be Arch.

Junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston will be a constitutive element to the Villanova roster this season. Possibly the biggest offensive presence for the Wildcats last year, Pinkston will look to build upon the 13 ppg he tallied in his previous season.

Pinkston is ready to work after a staph infection in his leg sidelined him for about a month this summer. Using sheer strength, Pinkston has the ability to blow by any defender to get the rim.

Key to his performance this year: if he develops a nice mid-range shot, he could unstoppable.

Junior guard Darrun Hilliard was a pleasant surprise for Villanova’s backcourt last season. Hilliard put up 11.4 ppg last season and emerged from the woodwork after a relatively quiet freshman season.

What does he need to do this year? Everything he did last year, but much more consistently. Hilliard’s flashes of brilliance from last season need to become routine for the Wildcats to elevate their offensive level of play.

Senior guard James Bell is an important veteran wing presence. Bell is arguably the team’s most valuable three-point shooter. Providing his senior captain leadership, Bell needs to consistently contribute from the beyond the arc and become offensively aggressive to excel this season.

Sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu might be one of the most important elements to the success of this year’s team. Without Mouph, Ochefu is the sole reliable post presence that the Wildcats have on the roster.

Ochefu is expected to step up and provide quality minutes for the Wildcats in the front court. Key to his game: improve his shaky free throw performance from last year and emerge as a true force in the paint.

Despite his initial intentions to transfer, co-captain and senior guard Tony Chennault has decided to remain at Villanova for his final season of eligibility.

Chennault had a quiet stat line last year, yet had the important role of taking over point guard duties from Arcidiacono. This year, Chennault needs to increase his assist to turnover ratio, provide decent defensive skills, and aggressively facilitate the Wildcat offense from the top of the arc.

Bench Mob

I don’t know if you can say this for any other team in the country, but last year’s Villanova reserve players actively contributed to the team’s success—without even getting in the game.

Henry Lowe, Pat Farrell and Nick McMahon will return to the Villanova bench with the same energy and enthusiasm that earned them airtime on ESPN and a feature on BuzzFeed. Keys to success: keep up the bucket watch without Ennis!

What’s to Come

Last week, The Big East Conference held their annual media day in New York City. Villanova was picked to finish fourth in the coaches’ preseason Big East poll behind Marquette, Georgetown and Creighton. Pinkston and Arcidiacono were both named to the Big East Second Team.

The Villanova women’s team was also slated to finish fourth within conference play. Sophomore guard Caroline Coyer was picked as an All-Conference selection.

Basketball season will unofficially kick off tomorrow evening, at the highly anticipated Hoops Mania event. The men’s team is set to face West Chester University in their first preseason game at the Wells Fargo Center on Nov. 2.  Villanova will then host Lafayette in the Pavilion for the first official home game of the season at 8 p.m. on Nov. 8.

This year, with a new Big East and new Villanova team, everything is expected to be bigger and better. Last year we were a good team. But this year? We could be great. Villanova basketball is back.

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