Villanova Basketball: Biggest Lessons from Wildcats’ 2014 Offseason so Far

Villanova is not as big of a program as the likes of Kentucky and North Carolina, so it is not in the news every week during the offseason, but the Wildcats did come into focus on a few occasions this summer. 

From recruitment news to players signing overseas, the Wildcats did see a bit of action during the months that school was out of session on the Main Line.

Check below for the Wildcats’ biggest lessons of the offseason so far. 

 

The Class of 2015 is Still Taking Shape 

Villanova has had two recruits locked in for the class of 2015 for quite some time now, but head coach Jay Wright is close to finalizing his roster for next season. 

The Wildcats have three targets left on the board in Chris Silva, Jalen Brunson and Isaiah Briscoe. 

It is not a guarantee that all three players will commit to Villanova, but it is a good bet that the Wildcats will pick up at least one commitment from the trio. 

If two of those three join up with Donte DiVincenzo and Tim Delaney, the Wildcats could end up with one of their best recruiting classes in a few years. 

 

Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard Gained Valuable Experience 

As for the players currently on the roster, two of the biggest contributors for the 2014-15 season gained plenty of experience during the offseason.

Point guard Ryan Arcidiacono spent time with the Italian national team, and he was the only player not based in Italy to make the camp, per VUHoops.com

Senior Darrun Hilliard earned himself an invite to the LeBron James Skills Academy in July.

Hilliard got to spend four days honing his skills against the likes of Wisconsin’s Sam Dekker, Wichita State’s Ron Baker and a few incoming freshmen, including Kelly Oubre of Kansas and Arizona’s Stanley Johnson.

Competing against some of the elite players at the collegiate level should have given Hilliard some extra motivation to improve his game further for the rest of the offseason. 

 

The Wildcats Can Still Produce Professional Players

While James Bell may not have succeeded as much as Kyle Lowry or Randy Foye in his final season at Villanova, he did do enough to earn a professional contract.

Bell did not end up in the NBA alongside those two former Wildcats, but he did sign with Cremona in Italy to start his pro career. 

Some people may judge a program based off of the number of players it puts in the NBA, but there are some schools, like Villanova, that consistently produce athletes who go overseas and succeed as well. 

Bell is the latest example of that, and he could be joined by some of his former teammates in the near future, especially if Arcidiacono continues to pursue appearances with the Italian national team. 

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Kentucky Basketball: Why Aaron Harrison Is Wildcats’ Most Indispensable Player

Kentucky basketball is the deepest team in the country this season, but even the Wildcats can’t lose stars with impunity. Of all the big names on the Big Blue roster, postseason hero Aaron Harrison is the one who must stay healthy to keep the ‘Cats on track for a national title.

That’s not, of course, the same thing as being the team’s best player. The latter honor will likely go to freshman Trey Lyles, but if anything happens to Lyles, Marcus Lee will be right there to pick up the slack. After all, Lee excelled in a similar emergency role when Willie Cauley-Stein went down in the NCAA tournament last March.

By the same token, an injury to any of John Calipari’s trio of 7’0” centers could be weathered with relative ease. Dakari Johnson, Karl-Anthony Towns and Cauley-Stein all bring different skill sets to the table, but any one of them would be starting on most other teams in the Top 25, let alone the country. Even if projected starter Johnson misses a few games, Kentucky won’t exactly be on upset alert.

At point guard, too, Aaron’s brother Andrew Harrison now has a promising backup of his own in Tyler Ulis. The 5’9” freshman naturally plays a very different game from the 6’6” sophomore, but as he showed during the Wildcats’ exhibition games in the Bahamas, Ulis is entirely capable of keeping the offense clicking.

On the wings, though, Kentucky’s situation isn’t quite as comfortable. The likeliest scenario would have starters Aaron Harrison and Devin Booker (yet another freshman) backed up by Dominique Hawkins and Alex Poythress, respectively. Although all four players have their virtues, only the first two are reliable three-point shooting options.

That’s a concern, given how happy opponents were to pack the paint against UK’s size last season. This year’s even bigger ‘Cats will be similarly invited to launch treys early and often, and there are really only two players on whom Coach Cal can rely to get the job done.

Andrew Harrison is, in fact, a decent shooter when he gets a look (.351 last year), but he’s been so much more effective as a penetrator that Kentucky can ill afford for him to start standing on the perimeter. That leaves a crucial aspect of the offense in the hands of Booker and Aaron Harrison, with neither of their backups looking like good options to step in.

Hawkins (Harrison’s de facto backup) is also the weakest overall player in the projected 10-deep rotation. He’s undersized for a 2-guard and has yet to prove that he can create shots. He’s still a valuable defender and ball-handler, and his long-range touch is promising, but he’s a huge downgrade from Harrison.

In fact, it’s likely that an injury to either Booker or Aaron Harrison would leave the healthy one starting at 2-guard alongside Poythress. In that context, the veteran is clearly the one Big Blue would miss more. Not only does Harrison have Final Four experience and an unbeatable rapport with the starting point guard, but he’s the best perimeter defender on the roster.

Naturally, the Wildcats would prefer not to endure any of the late-season injuries that have plagued them in the last couple of years. If they do see anyone go down, though, an Aaron Harrison injury would cost them the most on both ends of the floor.

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Kentucky Basketball: 3 Burning Questions About Wildcats’ 2015 Recruiting Plans

Kentucky basketball has been the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting over the last five years. Since head coach John Calipari took over the program, the Wildcats tend to finish top in the country in recruiting rankings and often draw some of the biggest names coming out of high school.

Despite the last two seasons being vastly different from what Calipari and Kentucky are used to, the recruiting effort has stayed the course. Two years ago, the Wildcats failed to make the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round of the NIT to Robert Morris. However, that didn’t stop Kentucky from getting arguably the best recruiting class under Calipari. 

Last year, Kentucky struggled in the regular season but made a run to the national title game. Despite making the deep run and having a talented roster, only two players decided to leave early, with six players who were in the rotation deciding to return for another year. Again, another top-five recruiting class will be joining them in Lexington.

This slideshow will take a look at the burning questions that Big Blue Nation will have when it comes to Kentucky’s 2015 recruiting plans. 

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Slovenia alone atop group at basketball worlds (Yahoo Sports)

United States's Anthony Davis, dunks during the Group C Basketball World Cup match as New Zealand's Casey Frank, reacts, in Bilbao northern Spain, Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014. The 2014 Basketball World Cup competition take place in various cities in Spain from last Aug. 30 through to Sept. 14. United States won 98-71. (AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos)

Goran Dragic got Slovenia out of the kind of trouble that Lithuania couldn’t escape.


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Biggest Takeaways from Tuesday’s FIBA World Cup of Basketball Play

What Day 4 of the 2014 FIBA World Cup lacked in thunderous highlights or shape-shifting upsets, it more than made up for with some stellar individual efforts.

Team USA once again took care of business, riding a breakout performance from Anthony Davis to its third straight win and holding steady atop the Group C Standings.

A couple of NBA staples helped Australia survive a second-half rally from the always formidable Lithuanians, while a double-double from Gustavo Ayon propelled Mexico to an easy win over Angola.

Led by backcourt brethren Goran and Zoran Dragic, Slovenia shook off a shaky first-half performance to dispatch a winless South Korea. Meanwhile, in arguably the day’s most exciting game, Ukraine scored a minor upset over the No. 7-ranked Turkey.

In the day’s final tilt, the Dominican Republic—led by Anthony Davis’ former backup at Kentucky, Eloy Vargas—squeaked by Finland to jump to 2-1 in round-robin play.

With the field finally starting to round into shape, the next few days will go a long way in determining who amongst the FIBA crop stands a real chance of upsetting heavy favorites Spain and the U.S.

First, let’s break down a bit of what we saw Tuesday afternoon.

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NCAA basketball countdown No. 47 Florida State

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

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Ranking the Biggest Changes in College Basketball over the Past Decade

College basketball has changed significantly over the past decade.

Amid changes to what necessitates a whistle, new or moved lines on the court, conference realignment, added television exposure and the oft-debated one-and-done rule, the game is much different today than it was in 2004.

There have been a lot of minor changes over the years, but these are the 10 that have had the biggest effects on college basketball as we know it.

The following changes were ranked based on how much would be affected if things suddenly went back to the way they were.

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Kentucky Women’s Basketball Players Tower over Wildcats Cheerleaders

It may be hard to believe just by looking at this picture, but all of these women are college students. It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out which of them are basketball players and which are cheerleaders.

Alyssa Rice, a 6’3″ freshman, is on the far left, while the tall female on the right is 6’6″ junior Ivana Jakubcova.

Genes are incredible, and this picture is awesome.

[The Score]

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Fordham Basketball: Success in Canada, Hurdles Back Home

People are feeling pretty good about the Fordham Rams these days. Rightfully so, I might add.

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora told FordhamSports.com last week that he’s been particularly impressed with freshmen Eric Paschall, Nemanja Zarkovic, Antwoine Anderson and Christian Sengfelder, saying, “we’re getting a lot of good things out of a lot of people.”

Pecora also said that sophomore Jon Severe “has continued to grow as a player,” and called junior Ryan Rhoomes “a workhorse.”

There’s also the recently concluded trip to Canada, where the Rams went 4-0 after picking up wins against Concordia, Laval, McGill and Brookwood Elite.

That trip was a culmination of a productive offseason that began the minute Fordham was knocked out of the Atlantic 10 tournament on March 13.

Now for a little perspective.

No one is saying you shouldn’t be optimistic, but let’s remember that basketball games aren’t won in the summer. We’re still a couple of months away from the start of the regular season, and when it gets here Fordham will face one challenge after another.

That was confirmed last week when the school released its complete schedule, including Atlantic 10 opponents and dates.

When Fordham’s nonconference schedule was announced last month, what stood out were the back-to-back games that the Rams will play against Big Ten opponents. They’ll play at Penn State in their second game of the season, followed by a matchup at Maryland four days later.

Yes, there are games against New York Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Lowell and Maryland Eastern Shore sprinkled in, but those two games, as well as one later on at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s, protects against anyone labeling the first month-and-a-half a cakewalk.

“When you’re in a conference like the Atlantic 10, you have to go into it on the plus side,” Pecora told Bleacher Report the day the nonconference schedule was made public.

If the Rams don’t do that, it will be a major disappointment. They have to play the games, of course, but it’s realistic to think they could be 8-3 at the start of conference play.

Then it gets real difficult.

Fordham’s Atlantic 10 schedule opens on Jan. 4 with a game against Virginia Commonwealth. Then there’s Rhode Island, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, La Salle and George Washington. Massachusetts, Saint Louis and Richmond are next. Six of those teams—VCU, Dayton, Saint Joseph’s, George Washington, Massachusetts and Saint Louis—made the NCAA tournament last year.

“We’re playing teams in the Big Ten and the Big East, and we’re in the fifth-ranked conference in the country,” Pecora said. “We’re going to be playing top 25 teams, top 50 teams, last year nine top 100 teams, during the course of our A-10 schedule.”

The league might not be better this year, but how could it be?

This is not to create some built-in excuse; it’s to highlight the fact that Fordham’s schedule is brutal. To try to build a program in the Atlantic 10 is a monumental task made even more challenging by the fact that the league has gotten better every year.

It’s also to remind people who might be getting a little ahead of themselves that four wins in August are nice but don’t count in the standings.

On the flip side, to say they mean nothing is wrong. The positive vibes coming out of Rose Hill are real. Pecora and his staff deserve a ton of credit for changing the culture so drastically. The players they brought in have bought in.

“Every year our goal is to have a winning season,” Pecora said. “I think this year with the nonconference schedule we have, and then hopefully elevating ourselves in the Atlantic 10…we’ve gotten better every year, but so has this league. … This is the best league Fordham has ever played in. It continues to grow as a league, and we continue to grow as a program.”

That’s something no one can deny.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotations in this article were obtained firsthand.

Charles Costello covers the Fordham Rams for Bleacher Report. A full archive of his articles can be found hereFollow him on Twitter: @CFCostello

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Ohio State Basketball Recruiting: Breaking Down the State of the 2015 Class

It seemed like Thad Matta and the Ohio State basketball coaching staff could do no wrong when it came to the recruiting trail for the class of 2015, but they received their first bit of bad news recently.

Mickey Mitchell, a versatile forward who can play multiple positions, attack the rim off the bounce and shoot from the outside, decommitted from OSU. His brother Mike was once a part of Ohio State’s football team but transferred to be closer to his family.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time Matta has been on the wrong end of some football movement, as Brian Snow of Scout.com pointed out:

Rather than wallowing in what could have been, it’s worth looking at the current state of the Ohio State 2015 recruiting class.

It is still ranked as the No. 4 group in 247Sports’ composite rankings even without Mitchell, which is a testament to the class Matta was and still is putting together. Point guard A.J. Harris, shooting guard Austin Grandstaff and center Daniel Giddens are all 4-star prospects according to the composite rankings at 247Sports and give the Buckeyes depth at multiple positions.

Harris is a speedster in the open floor who can dart past defenders and finish at the rim with a soft floater. He is also an effective passer and will help Ohio State consistently get out in transition.

Grandstaff is a lethal outside shooter who can create his own looks off the dribble, use pick-and-rolls or launch attempts off passes. He is also an underrated passer who can play some point guard if needed.

Giddens is a physical post presence who swats shots with ease and controls the boards on both ends of the floor. His strength and athleticism make him an incredibly difficult matchup, and he will give the Buckeyes the rim protector they need going forward.

Even if Ohio State doesn’t receive another commitment for the 2015 class, it should be fine. After all, there is plenty of young talent on campus already, and Matta’s group is still ranked in the top five. However, there are three scholarships left to distribute among the next two classes, so look for the Buckeyes to hit the recruiting trail hard in the coming months.

Unfortunately for the scarlet and gray, superstar Cleveland prospect and recruiting target Carlton Bragg recently trimmed his recruiting list to five schools on Monday—Kentucky, Kansas, Illinois, Arizona and UCLA.

Ohio State is noticeably absent from that group.

The Buckeyes could use an elite power forward considering the three commitments already in tow are a point guard, shooting guard and center. That won’t be Bragg though.

Still, big man Doral Moore, power forward Ivan Rabb and power forward Esa Ahmad are all listed among the Buckeyes targets for 2015 on 247Sports and could fill that gap immediately.

Rabb is an athletic specimen who uses his versatility and speed to block shots, contribute on the boards and spin past defenders on the block. Moore can stretch his offensive attack with a mid-range jumper, but he has a lethal hook down low and controls the boards because of his athleticism and size.

Ahmad is an Ohio product who is versatile enough to score down low or get out in transition with the guards. He would be an ideal fit alongside Grandstaff and Harris because the two guards will likely look to push the tempo once they arrive on campus. Ahmad will fill the lanes accordingly.

Grandstaff has not given up hope that Mitchell will once again decide to rejoin the Buckeyes, saying as much recently, via Eleven Warriors:

“Mickey’s one of my best friends and I still think we have a shot at getting him, for sure. I’m still going to recruit him and hope to bring him to Ohio State, but it’s his choice and I respect him doing what he needs to do for himself.”

It may be a long shot, but Mitchell would certainly give the Buckeyes recruiting group a boost yet again. However, even if he decides to look elsewhere, Matta and Ohio State will still be in a prime position to finish among the best recruiting classes in the country for 2015. 

That’s not a bad position to be in two months before the 2014 season starts.

 

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