Villanova has reveled in the afterglow of its thunderbolt-delivered national championship long enough. It’s now time for the Wildcats to go about their next order of business: a repeat.
Wildcat head coach Jay Wright has been stressing this point for the last few weeks.
“I can definitely say we’re all excited to start a new basketball season where we’re back to chasing something, rather than talking about what we did,” Wright told Today’s U at Big East Media Day a few weeks back.
Although Wright loses veteran stalwarts Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu–while also unexpectedly losing five-star freshman Omari Spellman–he has more than enough playmakers and depth to get back to the Final Four.
Let’s break down Villanova by unit and assess its chances for a repeat.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 29, 2016
For years, Villanova has been led by its usually superior backcourt. Few coaches can assemble guards like Wright, and that theme will continue this season.
Look for Wright to employ both Jalen Brunson and Phil Booth in the same backcourt. Wright loves playing multiple point guards in the same unit. He did it last season with Brunson and Arcidiacono.
Brunson showed a lot of promise last season, but played mostly a secondary role to Arcidiacono. However, expect the training wheels to come off this season. Brunson should elevate his game to a new level.
Lost in Kris Jenkins’ clutch game-winning shot was the fact that the Wildcats’ leading scorer against North Carolina was Booth. The unsung player had a phenomenal game, scoring 20 points.
In Villanova’s trip to Spain over the summer, both guards started alongside each other and showed a lot of chemistry together. It may be a foreshadowing of things to come.
Then the ever-so reliable Josh Hart comes back.
After flirting with the NBA, Hart is back to give the Wildcats another title. The preseason Big East Player of the Year has as good a skill set as any wing in college basketball.
Hart can score from anywhere on the court, he can defend, he can rebound, and his value to Villanova cannot be adequately described. Hart will contend for All-America honors this season.
While the loss of Ochefu and Spellman is not ideal, it can be overcome.
Wright lamented the loss of Spellman, but he won’t let it dampen expectations.
“It’s a blow,” Wright said about the loss of Spellman. “Omari is a talent. He was fitting in well. You know, a lot of teams are dealing with (injuries, suspensions, etc.).”
Villanova still has some major weapons down low. The Wildcats bring back Jenkins, the championship game hero, who can play both forward spots effectively. He is the textbook definition of clutch and is one of the country’s better forwards.
His combination of sky-high confidence and extensive experience gives Jenkins a chance to produce a special senior season.
Jenkins is approaching the coming months with a workmanlike mindset.
“We’re preparing (for opposing team’s best shots) like every year before this,” Jenkins said. “We’re focusing in on the things that we can control. We’re continuing to learn, (continuing to) improve and getting better each and every day.”
Senior power forward Darryl Reynolds is also back. His experience, toughness and guile will prove to be immeasurable–especially in light of not having Spellman around. He won’t dominate, but Reynolds can rebound and defend at an above-average level.
Fordham transfer Eric Paschall should also help. The combo forward has a high motor and is relentless in the paint. Without Spellman and Reynolds on the Spain trip, Paschall started all three exhibition games and averaged just over 10 points per game.
Wright wants to see Paschall grow into his role.
“We are really excited about him,” Wright said about the impact Paschall may have. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on him early because he’s got to learn how to play in the Big East, (but) I’m expecting a good year out of him. I’m really excited about what he can become.”
We already went through six potential starters — Brunson, Booth, Hart, Jenkins, Reynolds and Paschall — but we haven’t brought up sophomore wing Mikal Bridges.
He would start on most Big East teams, but he’ll act as a super sub for Wright and the Wildcats. The wiry-strong and fluid Bridges is a smooth operator on the court. Bridges clearly played with more confidence down the stretch last March, and that confidence should spill over to this season tenfold. Once he’s in the open court, Bridges can do a lot of damage.
Outside that core of seven players, Villanova’s depth is diminished.
Former four-star shooting guard Donte DiVincenzo (a red-shirt freshman this season) could step up if given decent minutes. His minutes should fluctuate, but anticipate DiVincenzo to show signs of growth this season.
Wet-behind-the-ears big men (redshirt freshman) Tim Delaney and (true freshman) Dylan Painter were not expected to get a lot of run this season, but with Spellman out Wright may change plans. Both showed flashes of potential on the trip to Spain, especially Painter.
One can’t expect elite production from Delaney or Painter, but if they can supply some rebounding they will have done their jobs.
Images of today's first half action in the Blue/White Scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/a0JzSiZY9S
— Villanova MBB (@NovaMBB) October 22, 2016
While depth is little worrisome after the first seven players, not many teams have the experienced and dynamic core the Wildcats possess.
Villanova has one of the best—if not best—senior duos in the country in Hart and Jenkins. It also has three major breakout stars in Brunson, Bridges and Booth, plus an impact transfer in Paschall.
The variables (coaching, All-American candidates, experience) are all there for Villanova to win another Big East title and make a run to Phoenix, the home of the 2017 Final Four.
Wright is one of the most reserved and composed coaches in the nation, and there is no better man to keep his team focused. As the alpha dogs of the Big East, pressure is nothing new to Villanova.
“I can’t see being the national champions making it that much different,” Wright said about expectations. “It’s gonna be tough in our conference everywhere we go. These teams come after us hard. Anywhere we go on the road is bedlam. I can’t see it being any worse.”
While repeating has proven to be difficult for other programs (Florida was the last program to do so in the 2006 and 2007 seasons), at least Villanova knows it can rely on great guard play and experience.
That is something the Dukes, Kentuckys and Kansases cant lay claim to. In the end, that experience may be just enough to give the Wildcats that extra push come next March.