Can Villanova recover?

Villanova finished their season with four consecutive losses. (Keith Srakocic/AP Photo)

It seems as if we've passed this way before.

As Villanova ended its regular season in 2009-10, it had lost six of its last 10 games. Although the Wildcats talked of how things would improve in the post-season, they went one game and out in the Big East tournament, were extended into overtime by No. 15 seed Robert Morris in the NCAA tournament opener, then saw their season end against St. Mary's, the 10th seed.

So as we ended a second straight regular season where the Wildcats slumped, this time to a 5-9 finish after a 16-1 start, we wonder how there is any reason for optimism this post-season.

The Wildcats enter Tuesday's first-round game in the Big East tournament against South Florida not knowing the status of Corey Stokes, who sat out Saturday's 60-50 loss to Pitt with a hamstring injury. In addition, Corey Fisher, struggling with tendinitis in his knee, went 3-for-14 and scored just seven points against the Panthers.

These are the Cats' top two scorers, much of their firepower. Maalik Wayns picked up a lot of the slack Saturday with a career-high 27 points but he can't be expected to hit half of his three-point shots as he did against the Panthers. He was shooting at only a 24 percent clip from deep entering the game.

Early in Saturday's game, Villanova slowed it down on offense and put the basketball in Fisher's hands to make plays. But he got off to a slow start shooting-wise, picked up his third personal foul just before halftime and never got in a real rhythm in the second half.

What looked worse, Fisher had trouble getting his legs into his jumper as the second half rolled on. Fisher said he felt good and was fighting through the injury. 'Nova coach Jay Wright said he didn't know how much Fisher was hurting.

Saturday's surprise was the disclosure of the injury to Stokes. Wright said Stokes hurt himself in Thursday's practice, aggravating the hamstring that he initially injured on Jan. 9.

Stokes played through the injury, then sat out three games in February with a sprained left big toe. Presumably, the idle time would have healed his hamstring, but it didn't.

Villanova practices are closed so there was no way to know what Wright revealed Saturday -- that Fisher has been hobbled by his knee in the second half of the Big East season, and that Stokes and Fisher had sat out various practices with their injuries.

The Wildcats said the right things after Saturday's game, that it's a new season and that they're prepared to handle the high-stakes one-and-done nature of the post-season.

But even though Wright insists that the spirits of his players are great and that they come to practice prepared and ready to work, there is no reason to be very optimistic that the Wildcats will win more than one game in the Big East tournament, or get through the first weekend of the NCAAs.

Predctions, however, aren't always right. Nova Nation can always hope.

--Joe Juliano

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