Villanova is already three games into the 2010-2011 season, and not surprisingly, the Cats are undefeated following wins over Bucknell (68-52), Marist (84-47), and Boston University (82-66). What is surprising is the superb play of sophomore guard Maalik Wayns. Everyone was expecting Wayns to take a leap in production in his second year, but this has been a Grand Canyon sized leap. Maalik’s been the best player on the floor for the Wildcats, which is really saying something considering his backcourt-mate is a preseason top 50 candidate for the Wooden Award, Corey Fisher. Fisher hasn’t scored 105 points yet, but it’s not like he has been disappointing either. After all, Fisher Price is leading the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game.
In the words of Yoda, speaking about Rajon Rondo, “Scoring a great point guard does not make.” Don’t get me wrong, Wayns does plenty of scoring too, averaging a team second-best 14.7 points per game, but it’s his assists (7.3 per game) and rebounding (5.7 per game) that have been most impressive. Wayns looks like a legitimate threat to record Nova’s first triple-double since Jason Fraser’s 22 points, 15 rebounds, 11 broken bones game in 2003. Most recently, Wayns put up a Rondoian stat line of 12 points, 6 rebounds, and 12 assists against BU. Yet unlike Rondo, Wayns can actually shoot too. In three games, Wayns has already made double the amount of 3-pointers (4) that Rondo has made in 11 games this season (2).
It’s not all about statistics, however; just ask the Baseball Writers Association of America. Maalik Wayns has an uncanny ability to control the game with his speed. I’ve never seen a player fly by defenders with such ease, while driving coast to coast for a lay-up. It's natural to want to compare this great Villanova point guard from Philly to the last great Villanova point guard from Philly, Kyle Lowry. Lowry relentlessly went at bigger defenders trying to draw contact when driving to the basket, but Wayns is so fast that he drives past defenders to get to the basket for uncontested lay-ups. Because of his speed, passing, and shooting, Wayns’ game most resembles Ty Lawson of the Denver Nuggets, who just so happens to have an NCAA Championship to his name.
In addition to the dynamic backcourt duo of Fisher and Wayns, the rest of the Wildcats supporting cast has looked good as well. The seniors are doing what we expected of them; Corey Stokes (10.3 ppg) is draining open threes (6 of 18 so far) and Antonio Pena is scoring (10 ppg) and rebounding (7 rpg) in the post. Mouphtaou Yarou still looks raw, but he’s been able to simply overpower smaller opponents with his size, strength, and athleticism, to the tune of 8.3 points, 6 rebounds, and almost 2 blocks per game. The real test will come next week when Nova faces UCLA in the semifinals of the NIT. Dominic Cheek (9 ppg) just might be the Big East Sixth Man of the Year. Cheek scored 15 points off the bench against Marist, and he has displayed a drastically improved jump shot (.444 3P%) so far this season. Maurice Sutton had a monster game against Marist (13 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks), but it’s more realistic to expect something closer to the 2 points and 3 rebounds he averaged in the other two games. Sutton had similarly strong games against the smaller mid-major teams early last season, but his production later tailed off during Big East play. Isaiah Armwood’s opportunities are limited (2.7 ppg, 2.3 rpg), but Wayns and Fisher have set him up for some open dunks under the basket, and Armwood knows how to finish strong. With Pinkston sidelined, the team only goes eight deep right now, which is actually a more suitable rotation size than the eleven man carousel of players Jay Wright had to juggle last season. Although, now it is more crucial that these top eight stay healthy all season, and if they do, this team can really go places.