Team preview: Villanova

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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)

Because Villanova fans always presume basketball success, the question at hand this season for the Wildcats is not whether they will get a break from expectations.

"Our people think we're going to the Final Four," coach Jay Wright said, even though the 'Cats haven't been there in 21 years.

The mystery surrounding this year's edition is exactly what this team will look like. The last couple years have been pretty similar for the Wildcats -- a guard-heavy perimeter attack that gave Villanova's standout backcourt performers the opportunity to thrive. And thrive they did, right to the NBA. Pro rosters will feature 'Nova products Allan Ray, Randy Foye and Kyle Lowry this year, a great selling point when Wright recruits but not the best thing for a program hoping to maintain its status among the nation's elite.

Ray and Foye were seniors last year, so their departures were expected. But Lowry had two years of eligibility remaining, and Wildcat fans had hoped he would take a star turn this year. He didn't, so Villanova moves on with one experienced guard, Mike Nardi, a promising backcourt recruit, Scottie Reynolds, and an intent to keep playing the same way, if that's possible.

"In terms of our size, we're going to look like a classic basketball team," Wright said, speaking of a two-guard, three-forward set. "But we're still going to play the same way. We still want to spread out four guys on the perimeter. We'll just do it differently."

That much is true. Foye, Ray and Lowry were each adept at creating their own shots off the dribble. Nardi is more of a three-point shooter, although Wright insists he can do more on the move, while wingers Bilal Benn, Shane Clark and Dwyane Anderson are better slashing, rather than breaking down defenders.

Then there's 6-7 senior forward Curtis Sumpter (15.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg in 2004-05), the ultimate X factor. Sumpter missed last season with a knee injury. Actually, it was two injuries. Two ACL injuries. The first was suffered during the '05 NCAA Tournament, and just when it looked like Sumpter was going to return, he was hit again with another ligament tear.

While he toyed with the idea of returning before the end of last season, that dream proved impossible. So, instead of finishing his career with classmates Foye, Ray and Jason Fraser, Sumpter is returning for his last year facing several hurdles. The first is physical. He was thought to be healed last year, but his knee gave out again. Though he had a good summer in the New York Pro-Am league, Sumpter remains something of a question mark physically, until he proves he can stand up to the rigors of practice, and ultimately, games.