Optimism Abounds as Wildcats Look Ahead to 2000-01
July 26, 2000
Wall Street money managers know it.
So too do the savviest investors.
When it comes to volatile market places, it always is wise to pay heed to trends.
That truth applies to the kinetic world of college basketball too.
Several patterns established in the 1999-2000 campaign suggest that the Villanova Wildcats are a property worth studying closely as the savvy analyst studies his hoops projections.
- Villanova was at its best in the second half of `99-00, winning nine of its final 14 games to reach the 20-win plateau for the sixth time in the past seven seasons.
- Five of the eight athletes earning the most minutes down the stretch were either freshmen or sophomores. A sixth, Jermaine Medley, returns as the incumbent at point guard.
- In the push postseason push, Medley established himself as the Wildcats' point guard, averaging 11.4 ppg in that stretch.
- The Wildcats will have their ranks bolstered by five newcomers, including 6-10 Michael Bradley, who averaged 9.8 ppg as a University of Kentucky sophomore in 1998-99 before transferring to the Main Line.
"There is a lot," said head coach Steve Lappas, "to be encouraged about."
Villanova begins the year without three key components of its recent past: graduated forwards Malik Allen and T.J. Caouette along with swingman Brian Lynch. Allen led the `Cats in scoring (14.2 rpg) and rebounding (7.4 rpg) while Lynch contributed 10.7 ppg and was tops on the squad in assists.
"Malik, Brian and T.J. made tremendous contributions, both as players and as leaders," noted Lappas. "We will miss them."
Yet with three returning starters and a blossoming cast of young talent, the tone is upbeat.
"I thought it was great the way our team hung in there last year," Lappas stated. "We improved as the year went along and were in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament bid right up until Selection Sunday."
In a sense, Villanova played two seasons in `99-00. In the season's first two months, the `Cats were a squad that relied on gritty defense and tenacity to keep itself in the hunt. In its first 17 games, the Wildcats averaged 66.6 ppg. By late January, though, the club had evolved into a high-octane offensive unit that scored 87 points against Seton Hall and West Virginia. In its last 16 games of `99-00, Villanova averaged 73.5 ppg.
"A lot of that had to do with our young kids developing," Lappas explained. "Early on we had to rely on defense but as some of the young guys developed, we became a better offensive team."
Despite the exit of the class of 2000, the Wildcats seem poised to build upon the strong finish of last February and March.
A chief area of concern at this point last summer was the backcourt. Both starting guards on the 1999 NCAA Tournament team, John Celestand and Howard Brown, had graduated (Celestand then wound up a Los Angeles Laker). In their wake were a collection of gifted, yet unproven, athletes.
Most of that uncertainty was alleviated with the emergence of Medley and Gary Buchanan as the starting backcourt tandem.
A native of Wilmington, Del., the 6-0 Medley began the year as the starter at off guard before giving way to Buchanan in early January. After coming off the bench for most of that month, Medley was handed the point guard reins on Feb. 5 at Georgetown.
From that point on he and his team prospered. Averaging 33 minutes a game, Medley's long-range shooting accuracy (.381 on 3-point field goal attempts for the season) and calm ballhandling skills gave Villanova a strong boost.
"Jermaine's play over the second half of the season was really something to see," Lappas said of the senior. "He has always been a tremendous shooter and last year he did a great job of running the team."
Medley ended the year with a 7.6 ppg and his growth was reflected by the fact the Philadelphia Big Five named him its Most Improved Player.
Buchanan offers Villanova a dangerous threat alongside Medley in the backcourt. The 6-3 native of St. Louis enjoyed a terrific freshman campaign, averaging 12.5 ppg and displaying the kind of offensive tools seldom seen in a rookie. He had a 28 point scoring outburst in a nationally televised win over Georgia on Jan. 30 and did not miss a free throw from Dec. 11 through Feb. 26 ( a run of 45 straight, establishing a new school record). The product of St. Thomas More was named to the Big East All-Rookie team.
"Gary is a tremendous shooter and he had a terrific freshman year," Lappas stated.
With 76 3-point field goals, Buchanan broke Tim Thomas' school record for triples by a rookie and few Big East backcourts can match the long-range explosiveness of this pair.
In the frontcourt, Villanova again will rely heavily on Brooks Sales. The junior from Bloomfield, Conn., was second on the Wildcats in rebounding (7.3 rpg) and chipped in with 8.6 ppg. Sales can make shots facing the basket and in two years has become a critical element on the inside for Lappas.
"Brooks is one of our most versatile players," said Lappas. "We ask him to do a lot of things and he does them well. He is probably our best interior defender."
Joining Sales up front is Bradley, a touted transfer originally from Worcester, Mass. Bradley owns an NCAA championship ring from his days at Kentucky and brings an imposing skill package to the table. His passing and offensive talents seem particularly well-suited to the motion offense.
"Mike brings a different dimension to our team," Lappas stated. "He offers toughness, tremendous scoring skills and will be a valued addition."
Offering support on the interior is sophomore Ricky Wright. The 6-7 native of East Chicago, Ind., asserted himself throughout the season's second half. In one three game stretch of February he averaged 17 points and six rebounds against Rutgers, Syracuse and Seton Hall. A superb leaper, Wright emerged as a force when he entered the game off the bench.
"Ricky had some great moments," Lappas recalled. "We look for an even bigger contribution this year. His toughness and athleticism are definite plusses for us."
A pair of Wright's sophomore classmates, Aaron Matthews and Andrew Sullivan, figure to vie for the vacated small forward position created by Lynch's graduation. Matthews (4.6 ppg) became a crowd favorite, with his physical brand of defense and electrifying dunks. Sullivan, with a huge wing span, stepped forward as a defensive stopper. Both have enormous upsides.
"Aaron and Andrew each had some terrific moments too," Lappas said. "Aaron is very tough and strong yet skilled enough to work on the perimeter. Some of our best defensive moments were provided by Andrew. The added year of experience should help them both."
Matthews is probably the larger offensive threat at this stage of the their development while Sullivan made his mark hawking people. Both are eager to add to their roles.
Junior Johnny Holley, 6-6, started three games at small forward last winter before knee injuries forced him to the sidelines on Jan. 8.
"Johnny has just had so many injuries here that you feel for him," Lappas said. "But we're hoping he'll be healthy and able to contribute."
The freshman class provides a boost on the perimeter where Villanova can use it.
Guard Derrick Snowden, 6-0, is a natural point guard who can spell Medley and be groomed for the future. Reggie Bryant, 6-3, can play either guard position and is a slasher with the ability to put points on the board. Forward Andreas Bloch, 6-9, is a smooth shooter who should find the motion offense to his liking and center Jair Veldhuis is a gifted shotblocker and rebounder.
"Derrick is a lightening quick guard who will add to this team, especially at the defensive end," Lappas said.
"Reggie is a proven scorer and you can never have enough of those. He can take people off the dribble or pull up.
"Andreas gives us another shooter, a guy with a lot of skills who can develop over time while Jair is an athletic big man with a great upside."
There are, of course, areas where improvement will be sought.
"I'd like to see us turn it over less than we did but I think having Jermaine and Derrick will take care of a lot of that," Lappas notes. "And we could be a more consistent defensive team than we were at times last year.
"But this is an exciting time. I like the fact that, with the exception of Jermaine who will be hard to replace next year, we will have the same team for the next two years. Last year's freshman class gave us a lift and I'm eager to see how that group develops. Plus, we have added some players who have a chance to excel here."
The schedule is customarily daunting. In addition to its 16 Big East contests, Villanova defends its Philadelphia Big Five title against Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph's and Pennsylvania. The Wildcats are also a part of the preseason National Invitation Tournament and travel to UCLA and Georgia.
With its balance sheets aligned though, the Villanova prospectus is one that should excite potential analysts.
New market or old, trends are to be taken seriously.