Since Villanova's epic collapse at the end of the 2010-11 season, the Wildcats have undergone an identity crisis. Really, if someone asked you to place a tag on Jay Wright's last three years, would you be able to define them with any confidence?
As Chris Lane (@chrisjjlane) of our SB Nation compadre VU Hoops (@VUhoops) explains below, Wright has always depended on guardplay in his twelve years at Villanova. There were many years (notably 2006 and 2009) that it worked, and a few - like 2011 - that the guard-dependent style didn't work.
Nonetheless, the Wildcats have been one of the steadiest programs in the country over that span, and Wright is looking to get his team back near the top of the new Big East Conference. But if he's going to do it, 'Nova will need solid play from both its backcourt and its frontcourt, to replace big man Mouphtaou Yarou's minutes.
After you're done here, make sure to make your way over to VU Hoops for everything Villanova sports. Chris and company do an excellent job.
Rumble In The Garden: Explain where the Wildcats fit in the national hierarchy - imagine you're talking to a hoops newbie who knows Duke, Kentucky, and North Carolina exist, but the person doesn't watch the tournament or really know conferences' reputation. Who is Villanova? Think: "What is our team known for?" or "Why might someone have heard of the team?"
Chris Lane: If you've heard of the term "Guard U" it's referencing Villanova in the last 10 years. Jay Wright has developed a reputation for leaning heavily on his backcourt, and has instituted the 4-guard lineup to a pretty lethal effect with players like Randy Foye, Allan Ray, Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and now, Ryan Arcidiacono. Villanova's peak was the 2009 Final Four, a run through March Madness over traditional powers like UCLA and Duke and firmly put Villanova on the national map.
RITG: Add a fun fact about the school or the program - something that would impress a person who is loosely familiar with the school.
CL: From 1930-1950, the Villanova "Wildcat" mascot was actually a live wildcat that was caged during home and away football games. Each cat was named "Count Villan." The tradition ended in 1950 with the death of Count Villan IV.
RITG: How do you feel about the new Big East - being in the conference, worries about the future? What are you most excited about/ to see? What worries you?
CL: After the roughly two-year saga involving Villanova football trying to make the step to the FBS level, and then conference realignment, I'm really excited for the new Big East. Like most of the other founding schools, our basketball is our bread and butter and it's really exciting to keep the tradition of those schools together and bring in some other like-minded schools that put basketball first.
I think the Big East will make for a great new conference and there won't be as much prestige lost over the next few years as some think. What really worries me is that there is no way that realignment is over. The Big East might bring in some new schools, which could be good or bad. Still lots of unknown out there.
RITG: Which other Big East team are you most excited to see in action next year?
CL: I'm excited to get Syracuse out of the picture and get the Villanova-Georgetown rivalry more ramped up. I'm also excited to see a post-Brad Stevens Butler team, and what Creighton can bring to the conference now that Doug McDermott is coming back.
RITG: What does next season look like? Who leaves the program? Who is new? Who returns? Who is expected to be the on-court leader(s)?
CL: Big men Mouphtaou Yarou and Maurice Sutton are graduated, and Yarou in particular was one of the rocks of last year's team. Forwards Kris Jenkins and Daryl Reynolds along with wing Josh Hart are incoming. Hart and Jenkins were Top 100 recruits, and Jenkins should be able to immediately help on the offensive end, while Hart has been praised for his defense and work rate.
Dylan Ennis (transfer from Rice) is also eligible, and between he and Ryan Arcidiacono, the backcourt should lead the way this season. JayVaughn Pinkston and Darrun Hilliard will be relied upon to generate a good deal of the offensive output.
RITG: In 100 words or less, explain your last season (or last three).
CL: 2010 was a season with high expectations that fizzled out late in the season due to some reported chemistry issues. 2011 was labeled as a rebuilding year, and went even worse than expected, leading to some corners of 'Nova Nation calling for Jay Wright to be replaced. 2012 looked pretty bleak again, but Arcidiacono, Yarou, Pinkston and Hilliard stepped up and brought 'Nova back to the NCAA tournament, which didn't seem possible when the season began.
RITG: What's the big concern about next season?
CL: Who's going to replace Yarou down low? Daniel Ochefu got some valuable experience last year, but it will take a massive leap to even come close to replacing Yarou's production on both ends of the floor. His only true post backup is a freshman in Reynolds, so we're really thin there. We have to hope that our tweeners (Pinkston, Jenkins, Hart, Bell, Hilliard) can pick up some slack down low.
RITG: Bonus question: Give a reason to visit the area around the school's campus/ arena.
CL: Avoid The Pavilion (our on campus arena) as it's an outdated facility, but we play 3-5 games a year in the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Great tailgating scene, and really close to cheesesteak country for a postgame snack.
We extend a special thanks to Chris for participating. Villanova is a team that can finish at any position in the final Big East standings. With notable improvements from Arcidiacono and Pinkston, Jay Wright's Wildcats could be making their second straight NCAA Tournament appearance come March.