So, a little over one month into a season that still has about four more to go, how good is Villanova?
Fair question, even though it's really way too early to jump to conclusions either way.
The Wildcats were picked to finish second in the Big East, behind Pitt, which sounded about right at the time. After all, they do have three senior starters, one of which (Corey Fisher), was a preseason all-conference pick.
What they don't have any more, of course, is Scottie Reynolds. But we knew that going in. So it's time to move on.
From what I've seen so far, it's still very much a work in progress. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with that. Last season, they got off to that 20-1 start, when Jay Wright kept telling us that maybe they weren't really quite that good, and then we watched it sort of catch up with them toward the end.
Maybe this season, it'll be the other way around.
This team probably could have used JayVaughn Pinkston, but that's not going to happen now. And James Bell looks like a guy who hasn't played in awhile and is still battling to get back from stress-fracture issues in both legs.
Having both of those guys from the get-go would have obviously helped. How much, we'll never know for sure. But it's a factor, both short-term and beyond.
For the most part, this group hasn't shot well. And that allows opponents to concentrate on trying to keep Fisher and Maalik Wayns in front of them, away from the basket, where they've been known to do the most damage. If those two can start keeping teams honest by becoming more of a threat from the perimenter, it will only open things up.
Tony Pena is solid. Corey Stokes is also a good soldier and has his moments. Mouphtou Yarou, at times, looks like a guy who missed a good portion of his freshmen season. And his hands don't always work that well. Check out the LaSalle game. But if 'Nova is going to develop into something by mid-to-late February, he is going to have to be more of a factor.
The dilemma Wright has is this: He can play big, like the kind of teams that have often given his team trouble in the past. But that tends to slow the overall down. It's a two-sided coin he's got to figure out.
Another thing you notice with these 'Cats is, they don't get very many easy baskets. Sort of like John Chaney's Temple teams. Some nights, they have to work for whatever they get. When they're at their best, they're getting out in the open court and getting to the rim, creating better scoring opportunities and even three-point plays. It makes a difference. Check out the closing stretch against LaSalle.
Again, this is far from a finished product. And there is a bunch of talent to work with. It will be interersting to see how it comes together. Or doesn't. No need to try and put a label on this group yet. But right now, it might not look like the second-best team in the Big East. The good news is, they weren't the second-best team in the Big East when the went to the Final Four, either.
That's why they call it Madness.