VILLANOVA'S basketball team was supposed to return three senior starters next season, from a team that lost 19 games for only the second time in program history and missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004.

The Wildcats already were down to two, with point guard and leading scorer Maalik Wayns having opted for early entry into the NBA draft. Now it appears they might be losing 6-6 swingman Dominic Cheek, their second leading scorer at 12.5 points a game, to early entry as well.

While he doesn't have to decide until April 29, sources close to the situation think Cheek is leaning in that direction and could even make his intentions known by the end of this week.

Neither Cheek nor coach Jay Wright could be reached for comment.

Whether Cheek would even project as a second-round pick at this point is debatable. But sources speculate that his family's financial situation could play a part in the decision. A McDonald's All-American from Jersey City, N.J., he played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr. at storied St. Anthony's High.

If he joins Wayns, center Mouphtaou Yarou (11.3 points, 8.2 rebounds) would be the lone senior starter. Two other starters, sophomore small forward JayVaughn Pinkston (9.6, 5.2) and junior swingman James Bell (7.0, 3.8), also are back. And senior Maurice Sutton (3.6, 3.1) did start some near the end when those two were injured. In addition, Wright will have sophomores Darrun Hilliard (4.8, 2.4), Ty Johnson (3.3, 1.0), the likely successor to Wayns, big man Markus Kennedy (3.0, 4.4) and Achraf Yacoubou (2.2, 0.9).

They will be joined by two highly rated local prospects, forward Daniel Ochefu (Westtown) and guard Ryan Arcidiacono (Neshaminy), who didn't play last season after undergoing back surgery but is said to have recovered fully.

There's always a chance Villanova could get some late help along the recruiting trail, but at this point it's usually hard to get anyone who can provide immediate help. That, of course, would not apply to Friends' Central forward Amile Jefferson, if he decides to remain local. But most experts expect he'll end up at Duke, North Carolina State or perhaps even Kentucky.

There's also a chance that Neumann-Goretti product Tony Chennault, the starting lead guard the past two seasons at Wake Forest, could find his way to the Main Line. He left to be closer to home, and could apply for a hardship waiver that would make him eligible for next season.