This wasn't how it was supposed to end for Scottie Reynolds. But in the end, the Wildcats second-round loss to St. Mary's was that much of a surprise either.
Villanova spent much of the season looking like a good bet to return to the Final Four -- until the clock struck midnight. Or, rather, February.
The Wildcats went 6-7 in February and March, torpedoing the momentum of a 20-1 start. Though the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee gave it a gift of a No. 2 seed despite its quarterfinal loss in the Big East tournament, Villanova needed a huge free throw edge to beat Robert Morris in overtime of the first round, and failed to make the needed plays down the stretch against the Gaels.
That marked a disappointing finale for Reynolds, who leaves as the school's second-leading scorer. He was an obvious first-team All-Big East choice, and many thought he should have been the Player of the Year. But his slump in March came at the worst possible time, and proved costly for his team.
Reggie Redding also graduates this offseason, but Wright has always been known as a great recruiter, and there is plenty of talent returning. Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will both be seniors next year, and anchor a backcourt that also includes the promising Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek. The frontcourt has everyone back, though that could be a blessing and a curse given the unit's inconsistency in 2009-10. Still, Wright has to like the potential of Mouphtaou Yarou, who came on strong at the end of his freshman season.
Villanova should be predicted to have another excellent year in 2010-11, and will be on the shortlist of teams capable of a Final Four run. But the bitter taste of the loss to St. Mary's will take a long time to erase.NOTES, QUOTES
FINAL RECORD: 25-8, 13-5, tied for second in the Big East.
WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Wildcats started the season on fire, rising up to No. 2 in the polls heading into the Feb. 7 loss at Georgetown. Its transition game and strong backcourt made it a force in the Big East, and had or shared the top spot in the conference standings for most of the season.
Along the way, Scottie Reynolds put up big numbers as a senior, earning First-Team All-Big East honors, as well as being named as a First-Team All-American by the United States Basketball Writers Association.
In addition to the upperclassmen, the newcomers gave the program hope for the future. In particular, Maalik Wayns came on strong at the end of the season, and has a strong chance at a starting job in next year's three-guard sets.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Throughout the season, the Wildcats had a bad habit of standing back and waiting for Scottie Reynolds to save them when times got tough in the second half. The uncomfortable questioned that raised was what would happen if their superhero couldn't rise to the challenge.
Unfortunately, the answer to that came through in March when he slumped at the worst possible time. Reynolds went 4-10 from the floor for 10 points in the Big East tournament loss to Marquette, and 2-15 against Robert Morris, though he did go 15-16 from the line against the Colonials. In the final game of his career, the loss to St. Mary's in the second round, he finished with eight points on 2-11 shooting.
Fellow senior guard Reggie Redding was no better. After serving a team-imposed suspension for the first semester, his numbers failed to improve from his junior season. He went 5-23 from the field over the final three games of his college career.
The team also sorely missed Dante Cunningham on the inside. Though Mouphtaou Yarou emerged at the end of the season as a strong defensive presence, the Wildcats had a hard time replacing the easy points in the paint that their forward had as a senior in 2008-09.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Our journey was not an easy one. It was a tough one. But they really stuck together to the bitter end. I thought we were playing hard at the end, we probably played the hardest tonight that we played all year. That's what we want to do, be the best we can at the end of the year. But we understand the expectations were much higher for this team. And we have to take what comes with that. We do. Because as I said we took the praise and that's part of being an athlete these days, it's part of being a team at this level that gets this type of attention." -- Villanova coach Jay Wright, reflecting on his team's season after its loss to St. Mary's in the NCAA Tournament.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THE GOOD NEWS: The cupboard is far from bare in Villanova. In fact, don't be surprised if the Wildcats match the No. 2 seed they were given in this year's NCAA Tournament in 2010-11.
Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek should step right in to absorb the minutes of Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding, and along with Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes should keep the Wildcats boasting one of the top backcourts in the country. The frontcourt, too, should be improved with an additional year of experience from 2009-10 freshmen Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood to go with Taylor King and Antonio Pena.
THE BAD NEWS: It's not just that Scottie Reynolds has left the building. Jay Wright has a lot of teaching to do before play tips off for the 2010-11 season.
The Wildcats were not as strong defensively as his Villanova teams have been in the past. It had problems with fouls in many of its losses, and had a hard time checking talented opponents without drawing a whistle.
It also looks like there's some issues to work with regarding individual players. Taylor King was benched at the start of the Big East tournament as a "teaching point," while Reynolds and Corey Fisher both were on the bench at the tip of the NCAA Tournament opener against Robert Morris for the same reason. Getting everyone on the same page, and buying into Wright's vision of the team, will be critical for a successful season next year.
KEY RETURNEES: Though Scottie Reynolds and Reggie Redding leave a void in the backcourt, Jay Wright's depth in the backcourt leaves the team in good position for 2010-11.
Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes have been key parts of the rotation since their freshmen seasons, and they look ready to fill the leadership and production void as seniors next year. Also, look for Dominic Cheek and Maalik Wayns to emerge in their sophomore seasons, as the highly-touted freshmen spent 2009-10 learning the ropes.
The frontcourt brings everyone back next year. Mouphtaou Yarou, Antonio Pena and Isaiah Armwood will be the top players in the rotation, with Maurice Sutton also in the mix.
--G Scottie Reynolds finished his college career just short of being the school's all-time leading scorer. He scored eight points against St. Mary's in the NCAA Tournament loss, giving him 2,222 for his career. Kerry Kittles remains in first place with 2,243.
--C Mouphtaou Yarou was one of the pleasant surprised of 2009-10. The freshman was diagnosed with Hepatitis B in the Fall and was originally expected to miss the season, but after being sidelined for seven weeks he emerged as the go-to option in the frontcourt late in the season.
--C Maurice Sutton did not get much playing time late in the season, as he was a casualty of freshman Mouphtaou Yarou's emergence. However, he showed flashes of his potential in the NCAA Tournament, blocking four shots in 17 critical minutes against Robert Morris.
Previous Report: 03/30/2010