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Scouting the Contenders: Villanova Wildcats

Mikal Bridges
As March Madness slowly inches closer and closer, "Scouting the Contenders" takes a look at some of the nation's best teams in a chaotic race, and scouts their strengths and weaknesses and just how far they could go in the NCAA Tournament. We continue with the reigning National Champion Villanova Wildcats, who are on a fast track to a No. 1 seed.

Track Record

  • 26-2 record, 13-2 conference (Big East)
  • Notable Wins: 79-76 over Purdue, 61-59 over Virginia, 74-66 over Notre Dame
  • Notable Losses: 66-58 to Butler, 74-72 to Marquette
  • Clinched at least a share of the Big East title for fourth straight season (no team prior has ever had four consecutive Big East crowns)
  • Held No. 1 overall ranking for five weeks of season
Scouting Report: Last year around this time, I published a "Scouting the Contenders" article on Villanova admiring their continued success atop the Big East but projecting them as a "Sweet 16 team at best." The Wildcats proved me and plenty of others wrong, beating top overall seed Kansas, the Buddy Hield-led Oklahoma Sooners and UNC en route to the program's second national title. Now, this 'Nova team is no underdog of any sorts. The reigning National Champ has looked like the most consistent team in college basketball for a big chunk of the year, and has held on to the No. 1 ranking for an impressive five weeks. The driving force to their success has been veteran Josh Hart, a serious candidate for National Player of the Year. Hart contemplated going pro following a great NCAA Tournament in 2016, but his decision to stay has paid off in a big way. Hart is averaging 18.8 PPG while shooting nearly 51 percent from the field at an incredibly efficient rate. The senior has all the offensive tools to lead Villanova to great heights, and having a reliable No. 1 scoring option like him is an advantage 'Nova has over many others. Hart is helped by one of the nation's most underrated guards in sophomore Jalen Brunson. Brunson was mainly a support valve for star point guard Ryan Arcidiacono last year but has taken over the reigns of the offense in '17. The extremely cerebral guard is now averaging 14.6 PPG and 4.5 APG and looks like he could be another guiding force for the 'Cats. Wing contributors like Kris Jenkins (last year's National Championship Game hero), Mikal Bridges and Donte DiVincenzo give Villanova a plethora of other weapons to score. Jenkins has slumped at times but is still a hard-working vet that can score from anywhere, the high-upside Bridges is a great athlete and shoots over 90 % from the free throw line, while DiVincenzo is as rock-solid a defender as you will see in the physical Big East. When also considering the depth behind many of these guys, Villanova appears to have the roster clearly poised to make another deep tourney run. The only thing that could be standing in their way is the lack of a true post weapon. Last season, Villanova was extremely thin beyond center Daniel Ochefu but rode a small-ball attack to their National Title. Ochefu is now gone, and 'Nova really lacks any true post that can simply set up and dominate in the paint. Darryl Reynolds and Jenkins are technically forwards but do much of their damage in the mid range and outside, and the Wildcats leading rebounder is Hart, a guard. So far, their lack of significant size hasn't really hurt Villanova even against teams that love to pound the ball down low (namely Purdue and Virginia), because 'Nova is so good at minimizing mismatches and Jay Wright is one of the best there is. Yet, it is still a worrying weakness for the 'Cats, and one many will hope to attack in the NCAA Tournament.

The Verdict: Along with Kansas and possibly Gonzaga, Villanova has to be the team I'm most confident in as March comes closer. They don't have the pure star-power others may boast (ahem, Duke and Kentucky) but stars are never a true indicator of a great college basketball team. Villanova has the leadership and state of mind to overcome any opponent, and they play the smart, unselfish basketball that is so key in March. Last year, Arcidiacono and Ochefu overcome the doubters and ended their collegiate careers playing wonderful basketball, with plenty of help from the younger guys. Hart and Jenkins could do much the same, with plenty of help from Brunson and Bridges, of course. With the ever-reliable Hart leading the charge, and enough diversity on both sides of the ball, I love the look of this team, even if their lack of size or a "true" center possibly haunts them. If the season ended today, Villanova would be a surefire pick to go deep, and I would not be surprised at all to see this team threaten a repeat, even in a sport where parity and chaos reigns supreme.

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