When Jay Wright reeled in his stellar recruiting class in 2002, a .500 record over the next two years was not what most Villanova fans had in mind.
The conventional wisdom held that the foursome of Jason Fraser, Curtis Sumpter, Allan Ray and Randy Foye would bring back the glory days of Rollie Massimino, when a young Wright served as an assistant to the former Wildcat coach.
Instead, the Wildcats have scratched out 33 wins against 33 losses over the past two seasons. In Big East play, Villanova's gone 8-8 and 6-10 in those years.
Fraser, Sumpter, Ray and Foye are now juniors -- upperclassmen entering the second half of their college careers with some empty promises left to fulfill. Is the 2004-05 season a now-or-never situation for Wright and his linchpin recruiting class?
"I clearly understand when people say they need to do it now," Wright said. "But I look at it as this is their chance to do it and they're ready to do it."
FRONTCOURTFraser arrived at Villanova as one of the nation's top recruits, but his knees have not cooperated. He has missed 15 games over the last two years and has been well below 100 percent effective when he could play. Fraser has been injured for so long that he has lost confidence. Not in himself as a player, but in his body.
"Nobody's really seen him yet," Wright said. "His best asset is his mobility and he hasn't been able to show it the past two years. He's feeling good about himself playing again."
If healthy, Fraser could become one of the Big East's dominant big men. On the other hand, Curtis Sumpter held his coming-out party over the summer. Sumpter, an incredible athlete who's gone from a high school center to a college forward, made the USA Basketball Junior National team, beating out several of the country's big-name players. Sumpter will start at power forward but can slide over to the three when Wright wants to go with a bigger lineup.
"He could be the biggest surprise on our team and maybe the league," Wright said.
Adding depth to the frontcourt will be junior center Chris Charles and sophomore forward Will Sheridan, a strong rebounder and low-post defender.
BACKCOURTWright must sort out a crowded backcourt. There's Ray, Foye and Mike Nardi, and now incoming freshman Kyle Lowry joins the mix. And he might be the best of the lot.
Wright will alleviate some of the pressure for playing time with a three-guard lineup. Ray's best suited for the two-guard spot since he's the team's best shooter. Even though he's just 6-foot-3, Foye will start at small forward. Nardi will hold down the point unless his tendency to turn the ball over forces Wright to give Lowry more time.
"I like our depth at the guard position," Wright said. "What I really like about Foye, Ray and Nardi and Lowry is they're just good ball players."
Villanova will be small on the perimeter, but very quick and talented. They could give other teams fits on defense and create some interesting matchup problems on offense.
FINAL ANALYSISOn paper, Villanova stacks up with the best teams in the Big East, including recent national champions Connecticut and Syracuse. Along with the vaunted junior class, the roster includes talented sophomores like Nardi and Sheridan plus a pair of impressive freshmen. There's size, speed, strength and shooting ability.
Fraser could be the key to the season. The Wildcats simply need more than 7.1 points per game out of him.
"We need his size. We need his leadership. We need that inside presence," Wright said. "It sounds crazy, but I think we've got the ingredients. We need an inside game. An inside presence."
A healthy Fraser would provide support for Villanova's backcourt and give the Wildcats a chance to fulfill the potential of the freshman class of 2002.