PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- This might finally be the year for Villanova.
The Wildcats may not be more talented than they were a year ago, when they won 33 games, went 16-2 in Big East play and had Darrun Hilliard, Jayvaughn Pinkston and Dylan Ennis. But Villanova improved to 20-3 overall and 10-1 in the league after a resounding 72-60 road victory at Providence on Saturday.
The landscape of college basketball is different this year. There's no dominant team.
Nova isn't dominant, either. But it's definitely a contender.
Sure, this is still a group that scares so many come March because it relies heavily (maybe too much) on the 3-ball. But coach Jay Wright has two guys who can handle the ball in Ryan Arcidiacono and Jalen Brunson, a reliable big man in Daniel Ochefu, and one of the more underrated (and best) wings in the country in Josh Hart.
Remember, Villanova hasn't gotten to the Sweet 16 since 2009 -- when the Wildcats made a Final Four run.
Hart's vastly underrated
Hart doesn't get enough props for what he does for this Villanova team.
He entered Saturday's contest averaging 15.5 points and 7.4 rebounds per game, and he's reached double-figures in every game this season.
Hart does everything for the Wildcats: He scores when necessary, moved the ball, defends and rebounds.
Hart finished with 14 points -- 10 in the second half -- and 13 boards.
Hart made a ton of key, much-needed plays -- especially when the game got tight in the second half. He hit a trio of big buckets midway through the half after the Friars cut the deficit and then had a huge offensive rebound with a little more than a minute remaining that sealed the win.
Bentil needs to get healthy
Providence big man Ben Bentil has been arguably the biggest surprise of the college hoops season thus far -- and his status was up in the air less than an hour prior to trip because of an ankle injury.
The 6-foot-9 sophomore came into the game averaging 19.7 points and 7.8 rebounds -- but was ineffective in the first half Saturday. Bentil had two points and didn't have a single rebound in the first 20 minutes.
Friars coach Ed Cooley was on the court prior to the game -- evaluating and talking to Bentil. The problem is that Cooley doesn't have another quality big man on the roster.
Bentil was far more productive in the second half, but it was still evident he wasn't close to 100 percent. He was standing around, watching the ball, instead of going after rebounds. He made shots, including a couple from beyond the arc, but this team desperately needs him to get on the glass. He finished with just two rebounds.
Cooley has a problem. He needs Bentil to win games now, but also needs him as close to 100 percent as possible when it really matters: March.
Reynolds steps up
Villanova was without its starting big man, Ochefu as he sat out his third consecutive game after suffering a concussion in practice on Jan. 29.
However, backup Darryl Reynolds -- who logged a grand total of 211 minutes his first two seasons -- continues to show he's more than capable and is one of the best reserve frontcourt guys in the country.
Reynolds scored a career-high 19 points, taking advantage of a lackluster frontline and a banged-up Bentil. Reynolds was also effective on the glass for the third straight contest. He pulled down nine boards in a win at St. John's, had 13 in a victory at home against Creighton and grabbed 10 in the win against Providence.
No home cookin'
While it's tough for just about everyone else in the country to win on the road, it's been the opposite for Providence lately.
The Friars lost yet again at the Dunk, marking the third time in the last four games that Kris Dunn & Co. have come up short on their home floor.
The lone positive to take from this is that Providence has been successful away from home -- going 4-1 in Big East road games thus far (the lone loss came at DePaul).
The good news for Cooley: The next game is at Marquette.