WITH JALEN BRUNSON, NOVA MAY BE BETTER NEXT SEASON THAN THIS!

By David F. Cohen

Okay, Villanova lost last night to N. C. State and again failed to make the Sweet Sixteen, which it last sniffed in 2009 when it made the Final Four.

So, as you head to the diner on Lancaster Avenue this morning for a spanish omelette and a bloody to drown your sorrows, take heart:

The Wildcats in 2015-16 will be better.

Here’s their starting lineup: Ryan Arcidiacono and Dylan Ennis are back at guard; Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins are back at forward; Daniel Ochefu is back in the middle.

True, those guys came up way short Saturday night but they are also the heart and soul of a team that went 32-2 in the regular season.

And help is on the way.

Darrun Hilliard II and JayVaughn Pinkston both graduate, and that will leave two substantial holes in the lineup. Hilliard was a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection. He was equally effective on the opposite end, not only as the team’s top defensive playmaker but also as someone who could guard multiple positions because of his size and length on the perimeter. Pinkston was the mainstay of the team’s front line for the better part of the past four years, especially on the offensive end, where his mismatch ability made him a consistent scoring presence from various spots on the floor. He also got to the free throw line consistently.

Coach Jay Wright has ESPN 100 point guard Jalen Brunson (No. 17) coming in next season, giving him one of the best floor generals in the national class; Brunson can create his own offense and facilitate for those around him.

Tim Delaney and Donte DiVincenzo also signed in November and should help to safeguard the deep rotation Villanova has thrived on the past two seasons. Delaney provides a rugged interior presence with enough skill to score some from the post or make an open shot on the perimeter, and DiVincenzo is a playmaking combo-guard who fits the prototype we’ve seen from the Wildcats over the years.

While the Wildcats are losing two key pieces, they’ll still have plenty of weapons at their disposal next season, beginning with Arcidiacono, the point guard who will be a senior next season after being voted co-Big East Player of the Year this season.

Ennis, who started next to Arcidiacono, will also be back along with Booth, so with Brunson and DiVincenzo joining the fold, the Wildcats’ perimeter will be as deep and talented as ever. Ochefu will hold things down on the interior, and Hart and Jenkins will see more time on the front line. The Wildcats will be versatile again next season, but perhaps slightly more reliant on the perimeter and more likely to utilize some true three-guard lineups with Arcidiacono, Brunson and Ennis on the floor together at times.

There is no denying that the losses of Hilliard and Pinkston will hurt, but Villanova still returns the co-Big East Player of the Year, three starters and three other players who saw consistent rotation minutes, not to mention one of the league’s best incoming freshmen. So the Wildcats could very well remain the team to beat in the Big East.

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