The defending champions started the season without two of the most important pieces of the title run last year in Arcidiacono and Ochefu. Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins inherited the leadership role and other players (Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges) that already held important roles took another step in their development. That allowed the Wildcats to stay among the elites in college basketball, despite a rotation shortened to 7 players because of Phil Booth’s injury and Omari Spellman ineligibility. The Wildcats went undefeated in non-conference games, with wins over Purdue, Notre Dame and Virginia, and never really struggled in the Big East: two losses against Butler, one against Marquette, a rough win against DePaul and a tough semifinal against Seton Hall on their path to a conference title. Villanova will need to stay healthy going forward. Adding injuries to an already shortened rotation might put an end to their repeat attempt. The Wildcats did well in emergency situation during the season, for example when Darryl Reynolds was sidelined with an injury, but the level of competition going forward will be much higher and they will need as many healthy players as possible.
It might sound cliché, but Villanova really has a team-first approach, with plenty of players stepping up during the season when it mattered the most. Josh Hart, however, was consistent in his leadership role and accepted every responsibility that was thrown at him. He leads the team in points (18.6), rebound (6.5), he is second in assists (3.1) and a favorite to win Player of the Year. He bailed the Wildcats out of tough situations multiple times this season, including in a game against Notre Dame where he finished with a career high 37 points and 11 rebounds.
Villanova has been snubbed more often than not in the past, but after what they did last year, the AP Poll kept the team on top of the rankings for months, until Gonzaga eventually overtook the position. Unless weird things happen, anything short of the Final Four would be a disappointment.