In the last 24 hours we've had major news involving both Villanova and USC:
Jio Fontan tears his ACL - It was announced earlier this week that Fontan had hurt himself in a game in Brazil and was going to have an MRI, and it certainly sounded ominous, so it's not a shocker that it's been announced as a torn ACL. He'll be done for the season. Because USC didn't have a tremendous success last season, most casual fans (particularly those that aren't Pac-10 fans) didn't realize just how dramatic of an effect Fontan, the team's point guard, had. He had to sit out the first semester after transferring from Fordham, and when he wasn't playing the team lost to Rider, Bradley, TCU and Nebraska. Their season looked to be over. But with Fontan the team beat Washington, Arizona, Tennessee and UCLA, went 10-8 in Pac-12 play, and snuck their way into the NCAA Tournament.
But the fact was, this year's USC team was going to struggle even with Fontan. I had picked them to finish 9th in the Pac-12 (see my full 2011-12 Pac-12 preview) because the team lost their other four starters. Three starters graduated, and star Nicola Vucevic left early for the NBA. This is going to be a rebuilding year around the young talent Kevin O'Neill is bringing in. Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson played well as true freshman last season. The 2011 class has no blue chippers, but point guard Alexis Moore and swing man Byron Wesley are the best incoming players.
In some sense, the Fontan injury might have some silver lining for the program in the long term. The team was probably not making the NCAA Tournament with him, and now he can use his final year of eligibility in 2012-13 instead, when the team around him will be better.
Isaiah Armwood to transfer - This is unmitigated bad news for Villanova. With Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes gone, Villanova's strength this coming season was going to be in the paint, centered around their junior duo of Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou. Both players are very athletic and long, and would have been an elite rebounding/blocking duo. Maurice Sutton is another quality big returning, but he's not nearly the athlete or player that Armwood is.
The player who the pressure falls on most is clearly JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6'7" McDonald's All-American from 2010 who was suspended for the entire 2010-11 season after all sorts of trouble. He's back with the team, and with the 2011 recruiting class revolving around rebuilding the backcourt (point guard Tyrone Johnson and shooting guard Achraf Yacoubou are the two top recruits), Pinkston will probably be the player expected to replace Armwood.
I had thought that Villanova was going to be very narrowly in the NCAA Tournament this coming season. I picked them to finish 9th in the Big East, and currently have them as an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Losing Armwood makes them a big question mark. If Pinkston gets his act together and plays to his potential the team could actually be better, since Pinkston has more raw talent than Armwood. But if he struggles, or gets himself in trouble again, it's very easy to see Villanova slipping back to the NIT. I'll be watching Pinkston closely early in the season to try to get a read on this team.