...Villanova has its top nine guys back, from the team that found a way to get into the NCAA Tournament at the end of the year, as a 12 seed, then got to the second weekend for the third time in four years. But the one thing you can't control is injuries, as Jay Wright has quickly found out.
Last season, he had to deal with some of these issues, too. Casiem Drummond was looking good in the middle, until a stress fracture in his foot turned him into a basic non-factor the rest of the way. And Shane Clark went through a six-week stretch in the Big East where he just wasn't the same. And nobody could figure out the reason or reasons why.
Already this year, Wright saw Clark undero arthroscopic knee surgery, which was more or less a cleaning-out procedure. Then, he watched Dwayne Anderson, who became a catalyst last season once he was inserted into the starting lineup, go down indefinitely with a stress fracture in his foot. The good news was, Clark has somehow made it back in just 11 days. On Monday night, Drummond didn't play against Fordham, after complaining about pain in the foot that wasn't hurting him a year ago. But Wright said he could have played, if necessary, and expects him to be "OK" for tonight's game against Niagara.
It probably doesn't help that the Wildcats play 11 times in the first month or so of the season. By the same token, it doesn't hurt that they'll leave Philadelphia only once before the Jan. 1 Big East opener at Marquette. As was the case last season, we might not really know what Wright has until then. As for Anderson, Wright suggested that it might not be as bad as it could be. Obviously, it's going to need rest. I think the hope is that if all goes right, Anderson could be back within a month, give or take. But maybe that's a big if. These things can be tricky. Whenever I hear stress fractures, I think the worst. But Wright says there is no break, so I can only believe that's a real good sign.
Anderson isn't the best player on the team, but he's important. With him, the rotation really gets so much deeper. Because he can play big and small. Without him, there's only more question marks. If he can return at at least something close to full strength by around the New Year, that's probably a best-case scenario. This team is obviously capable of fulfilling many of the expectations. But you'd like to have all the bullets in your gun.
Drummond still doesn't look like quite the player he was before the injury. Still, it's early. Corey Fisher, as some who'd seen him over the summer had said, looks much more comfortable in the backcourt, even if he continues to do some things that just leaves you shaking your head. Antonio Pena also looks like a bigger piece to the puzzle, although he too sometimes plays like a second-year guy. It's going to happen. Hopefully, it happens less and less as the season wears on.
Scottie Reynolds and Dante Cunningham, who figures to have an expanded offensive role, are rocks. And Corey Stokes, at some point, is flat-out going to break out and be the next big-timer. He can fill it up from distance. For the time being, though, the key is simply getting healthy. If the Wildcats can do that, most of the rest should take care of itself.