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Full Court Press: Can the ‘Cats repeat? New Era at Stony Brook, and more…

Villanova looking to go back-to-back

College basketball is in full swing Double G Sports followers and this season promises to be just as exciting, if not more so than last year.

My weekly column, Full Court Press, will be jam-packed with individual player profiles, teams to watch, conference championship and end of season tournament summaries and analysis and interesting insights into what makes college basketball up-and-down the Eastern seaboard so very special.

 

(Photo by Wendell Cruz - Double G Media)

(Photo by Wendell Cruz – Double G Media)

 

Can Villanova chase history?

The proverbial bullseye will be on Coach Jay Wright and his Villanova Wildcats as they seek to defend their perch at the top of the national basketball pile. Last year’s NCAA championship legitimized the Wildcats standing as a national power as they became just the 15th school with multiple NCAA titles.

Wright has done a fabulous job in his 15 seasons at Villanova (354-157, 476-242 overall), and this year the Wildcats have as good a shot as anyone in the country to return to the Final Four, and dare I say, repeat.

Obviously, Wright will miss Ryan Arcidiacono who became the face of the Villanova program in his four year career. They will also miss the awesome presence of Daniel Ochefu who was a force in the paint and a fearsome rim-protector on the defensive end. But the cupboard is far from bare as the Wildcats have a solid core group of veterans who return from last year’s championship team.

First there is Josh Hart, a preseason contender for Player of the Year. Hart has had a strong start this year averaging 19.2 ppg in leading Villanova to a 5-0 record and No. 3 ranking in most polls.

Sophomore Jalen Brunson (12.8 ppg) gives the Wildcats one of the top point guards in the country.

Senior Kris Jenkins, last year’s hero, has picked up right where he left off scoring at a 12.6 ppg clip. Jenkins briefly considered opting for the NBA, but wisely made the right decision to return for an encore season.

Mikal Bridges has stepped into a starting role and has given Wright a fourth starter scoring in double figures. The 6-7 power forward is averaging 11.6 ppg.

Others who are expected to make contributions as the season progresses are Darryl Reynolds, Phil Booth, transfer Eric Paschall and freshmen Tim Delaney and Dylan Painter. The debut of highly-touted freshman Omari Spellman will be placed on hold for one year. Spellman was ruled academically ineligible for the 2016/17 season will be an academic redshirt with four years of eligibility left.

Villanova has had one signature win in their first five games, a 79-76 victory over Purdue on Nov. 14.

The Wildcats open Big East play at home against DePaul on Dec. 28. Future games to watch include a Jan. 10 meeting with Xavier, Jan. 16 encounter with Seton Hall and a non-conference matchup with Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers.

By the way, Bennett’s Cavaliers became the first team in three decades to hold three consecutive opponents to less than 40 points. Bennett’s pack line defense is much worse than going to the dentist for a root canal.

The bottom line – Villanova retains their throne at the top of the Big East, with stiff challenges from Xavier, Creighton, Butler and Seton Hall, with a return trip to the Final Four.

Will they repeat? They have the talent and Wright has established himself as one the best coaches in the business, but they will need a lot of luck …

New era for Seawolves

The 2016/17 season has marked the start of a new era for the Stony Brook men’s basketball program under first-year coach Jeff Boals. Boals replaced Steve Pikiell who moved on to resurrect the Rutgers men’s program after leading the Seawolves to a 26-win season and their first trip to the NCAA Div.1 tournament.

Last year marked the end of an incredible run of success under Pikiell after leading the Seawolves to five consecutive, 20-plus victory seasons. It also marked the end of the Jamel Warney era. Warney left the program as the all-time leader in points, rebounds, blocks and games played.

Warney was a huge force in the paint and will likely go down as the best big-money player in America East history.

This year under Boals, who spent the last seven seasons as Thadd Motta’s assistant at Ohio State, Stony Brook will be searching to find a new identity and a suitable replacement for the departed Warney.

The Seawolves have yet to win this season (0-3) losing to Columbia at home and on the road to Boston College and Maryland.

Boals may have found his go-to player in junior Tyrell Sturdivant who had a career-best 26 point outing (9 for 15 from the field) in a recent 82-75 road loss to Boston College. Beyond Sturdivant, the Seawolves have Akwasi Yeboah and Lucas Woodhouse who have played some quality minutes. Also Roland Nyama showed some potential coming off the bench.

In the first three games, Stony Brook has been ice cold from the outside so shooting appears to be a priority for Boals before the America East season kicks off in January. As far as the team’s outlook in the America East, most have the Seawolves pegged for No. 4.

Vermont, who battled Stony Brook in conference tournament final last year, has a veteran group returning and appears to be the front-runner. But don’t underestimate the Seawolves and the coaching of Boals, with some improved outside shooting and great team defense they will be right in the mix come March Madness.

One upcoming game of note for you nostalgia buffs is the Dec.10 game with Pikiell and Rutgers. By the way, Pikiell has Rutgers off to their best start in years…

Monumental task

Current Boston College Coach Jim Christian (Bethpage, NY/St. Dominic HS), in his third year at The Heights, is faced with the unenviable task of restoring the Eagles basketball fortunes, while competing in the ACC with some of the best teams in the country. It’s a tough enough challenge going up against a talent-laden ACC schedule, but when you throw in Hall of Fame coaches like Coach K, Pitino, Williams and Boeheim the rebuilding hurdle becomes almost insurmountable.

Christian, who had successful runs at Kent State, TCU and Ohio, has his team headed in the right direction with three consecutive wins after a head-scratching opening loss to Nicholls State.

Christian has a pair of bona-fide ACC players in Jerome Robinson and AJ Turner. Both had their ACC baptism under fire last year as true freshmen. Beyond that the Eagles are very young and currently are a work in process.

Graduate transfers Mo Jeffers (Delaware) and Connor Tava (Western Michigan) give Christian some major college experience in the paint while Morgan Chatman (BYU) adds depth at guard off the bench.

Freshmen Ty Graves and Ky Bowman are a pair of very promising point guards, but according to Christian they need to understand what it takes to defend at an ACC-level. Euro big, Nik Popovic, has shown promise in the paint and a deft touch from beyond the arc.

Patience is the operative word at Conte Forum, as Christian will need to recruit a few more 6-9 thoroughbreds if he expects to compete in the ACC. Christian is a very good coach and with the right talent will succeed.

Remembering Pat

I will never forget the impact that the late Pat Summitt left on the game of women’s basketball and for many women around the world.

To start, how about a 1098-208 record in 38 seasons at Tennessee, along with 8 NCAA titles. Summitt’s team’s reached the Final Four 18 times and they earned the top seed in the tournament on 21 different occasions.

But the best stat of all was off the court. Of her players who finished their eligibility, 100 percent earned their sheepskin.

She was a remarkable woman that will have her name forever linked with success on and off the basketball court.

 

Keep shooting…. see you next week….

Follow Bob on Twitter for all the latest in college hoop happenings, game highlights, features and more: @WhitneyBob

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Bob Whitney

Bob Whitney

Bob is a college basketball columnist here at DoubleGSports.com. He also covers Yale football and the Connecticut Sun of the WNBA.
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