A common little mistake people make when forecasting college teams is sometimes focusing on the players who left instead of the ones who remain. We all do it. Coaches do it sometimes, wondering how they can replace that four-year star (or glue guy).
Right before the 2015-16 season, Jay Wright, talking at a media day, wasn't making this mistake. Villanova's coach was judging the guys he had. He was just worried about his defense, since Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston were gone and those were two guys Wright had counted on defensively.
Obviously, Wright's questions got answered. His 2015-16 stars took their defensive responsibilities seriously, right into history.
Which brings us to now. The most interesting number from Monday's Purdue victory might be 182. Those are the minutes out of a possible 200 played by 'Nova guys who also got at least double-digit playing time against North Carolina in the NCAA title game.
Wright has players he knows he can count on. He's using them. Sometimes the alignments might be a bit unusual, especially against a mammoth team like Purdue that made Villanova work so hard inside. But trust is a powerful ally.
Go back to the preseason. If Wright was going to use a deeper bench against an early big-time opponent such as Purdue, he surely would have played more than eight players in the first half of a blowout exhibition against a Division II opponent. Wright showed his hand against Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He likes his hand. It's a strong hand.
It's obvious that Wright trusts Eric Paschall and Donte DiVincenzo, who missed out on March Madness. But guys brand new to college hoops, Wright has the luxury of not throwing them to any wolves, even if they're protected by all his seasoned vets.
"That eight looks good," Wright said in a hallway at the Wells Fargo Center right after the IUP exhibition. "And I think we, as the season goes on, if we can work Timmy [Delaney] and Dylan Painter in there, they're just . . . Timmy's coming off hip surgery. Not just not playing. Not playing basketball. And Dylan's a freshman. Right now, Timmy was with us for a year so he knows what we're doing a little bit better. And Dylan's just learning everything. We knew that when we were recruiting him, that we wouldn't need him this year but he could help us when we need him this year."
I asked Wright that day if he had similar defensive questions to the ones he had a year ago, considering the importance of Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacono.
"Yeah, I do," Wright said, mentioning that he worried about giving up too many offensive rebounds, and playing solid half-court defense when facing an opponent that can deal with Villanova's traps and three-quarter court pressure. "We're not bad, but we've got to get better."
That could be the top takeaway Villanova took from the Purdue game. For all their inside advantages, the Boilermakers only grabbed five offensive rebounds. Putbacks didn't kill Villanova even when it went to smaller lineups. Wright didn't budge when Darryl Reynolds and Eric Paschall found some foul trouble. Purdue still had to deal with the quicker Wildcats at the other end. At both ends really.
Next stop for Villanova is Charleston, S.C., with three games in four days starting with Western Michigan on Thursday in the Wildcats' only morning start of the season. There is no prospective opponent as highly ranked as Purdue, and not such a frenzied road environment. Still, this will be interesting hoops with possible opponents such as Wake Forest, UTEP and Mississippi State, which got four votes in this week's AP top 25 voting.
So a different kind of test, in games third-ranked Villanova is supposed to win but against opponents that know how to play. The trust/experience factor just can't be overlooked. Villanova's younger guys should note how beyond sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson, Villanova's other four current starters started no games as freshmen and averaged just 50.7 minutes per game between them in their first years.