Nova heavy favorite to win Big East

Villanova Wildcats

2013-14: 29-5 (16-2 Big East)
In-conference offense: 1.15 points per possession (second)
In-conference defense: 1.00 points allowed per possession (second)

For a veteran team heavily favored to win its conference, Villanova feels surprisingly mysterious. The Wildcats didn't lose often last season, but when they did it sure wasn't pretty. Coach Jay Wright is using that fact as a point of departure for this team. "We have to prove ourselves all over again," he recently told me.

In fact, Nova lost to just two opponents the entire 2013-14 regular season: Syracuse (at the Carrier Dome) and Creighton (twice). The three losses, however, were unusually and even emphatically decisive, coming by an average of 20 points.

Seton Hall then eliminated Villanova in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament courtesy of a Sterling Gibbs buzzer-beater, a loss that may have cost the Wildcats a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. As a No. 2, Wright's team brushed aside Milwaukee before losing 77-65 to a Connecticut team starting to heed destiny's call. Nova finished with just five losses, but four of those came by double-digits.

Projected starting lineup

This season, Wright loses leading scorer James Bell, but returns the other seven members of what was in effect an eight-man rotation. Also note that "leading scorer" is a bit misleading: Bell, Darrun Hilliard and JayVaughn Pinkston all averaged right at 14 points per contest. "A lot of our guys are unconventional," Wright told me, "and we try to play to their skill set."