Villanova's fabled four-guard lineup of a couple of seasons back was basically a myth.
The Wildcats started four guards, but that alignment usually went away with the first substitution, when a frontcourt player went in the game. After that, the four guards usually rotated among themselves, playing three positions.
It made sense, and worked all the way to the NCAA Elite Eight, probably because Jay Wright must have realized that all four guards deserved to start. Instead of having one guy wondering why he wasn't the one, Villanova's coach put them all out there for four or five minutes.
This season, 'Nova has a different dynamic, but it's no less interesting. It's a much younger team, so the expectations are not as high as they were for the 2005-06 group. Last night's 101-93 victory over Temple at the Liacouras Center had the whole thing on full display.
"But those guys probably have one of the deepest rosters in college basketball," said Mark Tyndale, Temple's senior guard. "It's hard to scout those guys because any given time . . ."
Tyndale talked about watching 'Nova's freshman point guard, Malcolm Grant, take over Thursday night's comeback over LSU. Then he got to Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher.
"Today, Reynolds killed us in the second half," Tyndale said. "Fisher killed us in the first half."
Even if Villanova's young guys are still learning how to play defense, Tyndale talked about how tiring it was to guard their ever-changing guards, how it eventually took its toll.
"They got that one run that just kind of broke our backs," said Owls coach Fran Dunphy.
"We didn't match their intensity at all," Tyndale said of how Villanova pulled out to a 84-60 lead with six minutes left.
Temple had matched Villanova for a half, getting big contributions from sophomores Luis Guzman (13 points overall) and Ryan Brooks (22), who both had career highs, and freshman forward Lavoy Allen, who finished with 12 points. But Villanova's older guys - the sophomores and juniors - took over just after halftime.
That was important last night because overall, Wright said of his team's 7-1 start, "We've played defense like I thought we would - which is not good. But we're scoring better than I thought we would."
He said Villanova's coaches had been emphasizing defense so much in practice, he thought the offense would suffer.
"These kids are pretty good on their own," Wright said. "We're not that great offensively, but the players are talented offensively, so they're carrying us right now."
Wright said he started Fisher last night for several reasons. He said center Casiem Drummond had a sore foot and had not practiced. (He played just six minutes last night.) As Wright looked at Temple's lineup, he saw a lot of guards, but mostly tall guards.
"I didn't want to go too small," Wright said. "That's what gave us trouble. They were shooting over us. That's why I went with Fisher. He's stronger."
Wright felt that the second-half run ended and Temple regained some momentum when he put a younger lineup out there for a stretch. But he's also trying to balance playing time. Three freshman guards - Fisher and Grant at the point, and McDonald's all-American Corey Stokes on the wing - can't all be out there all the time, not with Scottie Reynolds scoring 27 points and adding nine assists and skidding across halfcourt to get one loose ball. And Reggie Redding remains Villanova's top perimeter defender.
"They're handling all that," Wright said, standing in a hallway of the Liacouras Center. "That surprised me. They're handling that real well - especially Stokes. He's that guy who is a four man [power forward] in high school and has to play the perimeter in college. It's always the toughest transition. He's been real patient."
Last night, Wright made a point of complimenting the defensive and rebounding work Stokes did in the first half. Villanova's coach understands that if this Big Five winning streak is going to keep going and going - and if 'Nova hangs on to the national ranking that Wright doesn't really believe it deserves yet - then the starring roles will keep changing.