It's tempting to compare teams like Villanova from one season with the next, and that urge was particularly strong last night after the eighth-ranked Wildcats wrapped up their nonconference schedule with a 97-63 victory over Delaware at the Pavilion.
As they did during their Final Four season last year, the Wildcats (11-1) finished the pre-Big East portion of their schedule with just one loss, although they had one more win at this point of 2008-09.
They have more depth this season, particularly at the guard positions. Their rebounding, given the loss of forwards Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson, and Shane Clark, is about on a par with where the Cats were last season.
But defense could be the biggest concern now that Villanova has nothing but Big East Conference games ahead of them starting Jan. 2 at Marquette.
The Wildcats held Delaware (3-8) to 39 percent shooting but the Blue Hens had some offensive spurts that kept them in the game. Early in the second half, the Blue Hens trimmed a 19-point first-half deficit to five in the opening five minutes.
The Wildcats were able to pull away thanks to hot second-half shooting overall (58.6 percent) and from behind the arc (50 percent), but the lapses on defense certainly will be on Jay Wright's mind before 'Nova plays again.
"I think the defense needs to get better," Wright said. "We're getting there, though. We have to get a feel for each other defensively. We try to play together defensively off each other. We're not really good at that yet, but I do think we're going in the right direction."
Wright feels a little better about the defense now that Reggie Redding has returned from a 10-game suspension. In his first home game of the season, Redding had 16 points and six rebounds and served as traffic cop at the defensive end.
"We've still got a lot of work to do," said Redding, the former St. Joseph's Prep star. "We're not where we want to be yet but we'll find out on Jan. 2."
The Wildcats used their depth to slow down Jawan Carter, the Blue Hens' leading scorer. Carter scored 13 points but had to work hard to get off 11 shots.
"It seems like they were playing eight guys at the same time," Delaware coach Monte Ross said. "They keep coming at you. They wore Jawan down. That's the first time all season that he got so tired he had to come out for a blow."
The Blue Hens trailed by 46-27 late in the first half but cut the deficit to 50-45 on a three-point play by Kelvin McNeil with 15 minutes, 18 seconds remaining. The visitors, however, scored only four baskets the rest of the game.
Villanova opened up some daylight with a 12-0 run that began with a three-pointer by Scottie Reynolds and ended with a three-ball by Taylor King. That made it a 19-point game once again.
Reynolds, who knocked down six of eight three-point attempts, led all scorers with 22 points. King added 19 and Corey Fisher 14.
Reynolds, a senior, is excited to return for his final season in the Big East, a season in which the coaches have picked the Wildcats to win the conference.
"Coach was talking to us about each team," he said. "He's going down the line of all the teams and all of them are up there with us. They're great teams. We're interested to see how we're going to stack up against those guys."
Wright, who scoffs at the coaches' prediction, said this year's team is "definitely different" from last year, particularly with 10 players - including four freshmen - in his rotation.
That counts redshirt freshman Maurice Sutton, who missed last night's game with an upper-respiratory infection, but not freshman center Mouphtaou Yarou, who is out indefinitely with hepatitis.
"Our depth might be really good for us night-in and night-out," he said. "We'll be able to stay fresh. But maybe the young guys won't be as effective in Big East games, so we've got to see."