4-star recruit Brandon Slater announced via Twitter last night that he will be attending Villanova University next fall and join its 2018 recruiting class.
The 6-foot-6 forward currently attends Paul VI high school in Fairfax, Virginia and plays for Team Takeover, where he is averaging 7.8 points and 3.2 rebounds on the Nike EYBL circuit. Slater is ranked as No. 42 in ESPN’s top 60 for his graduating class and has been rated as a top 50 recruit by Rivals.com and Scout.com.
Maryland, Miami, Virginia and South Carolina, among other schools were also interested in Slater.
The lefty is coach Jay Wright’s first commitment for the class of 2018.
Photo: Twitter of Brandon Slater
For the first time in over 728 days, the Villanova Wildcats lost an NCAA tournament game.
The Wisconsin Badgers upset Villanova, 65-62, in the second round of the East regional. It was a back and forth contest as both teams traded baskets throughout the afternoon. The Wildcats held a 7-point lead with less than 6 minutes left in regulation but could not pull away, as the Badgers went on a 7-0 run to tie the game at 57. Villanova regained the lead after senior guard Josh Hart converted 1 of 2 from the foul line but were unable to match the Badgers on offense (three made field goals) down the stretch, scoring only one field goal in the final three minutes.
Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes had a team-high 19 points and recorded 8 rebounds, while senior guard Bronson Koenig and sophomore forward Ethan Happ scored 17 and 12 points respectively. Villanova was led in scoring by Hart, who had 19 points and redshirt freshman guard Donte DiVincenzo, who finished with 15 points.
The Badgers will return to the Sweet 16 for a fourth consecutive time, while Villanova’s remarkable 2016-17 season has come to an end.
Photo: Dave Weaver-USA Today Sports
Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Record: (26-9 overall, 12-6 conference)
Key players: Senior guard Bronson Koenig (14.5 PPG, 2.1 RPG, 2.1 APG, .417 FG%, .393 3P%), sophomore forward Ethan Happ (13.8 PPG, 9.1 RPG, 2.8 APG, 1.2 BPG, 1.8 SPG, .583 FG%) and senior forward Nigel Hayes (13.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.8 APG, .448 FG%, .309 3P%).
Summary of Season: Wisconsin got off to a hot start to begin the 2016-17 season, as the Badgers won 21 out of their first 24 games. Although Wisconsin lost 5 of their last 7 games heading into the Big Ten conference tournament, head coach Greg Gard and company cruised through the quarterfinals and semifinals with double-digit wins over Indiana and Northwestern.
Having said that, the Badgers faced a red hot Michigan Wolverines team in the Big Ten final and ultimately lost 71-56.
Senior guard Bronson Koenig set a school-record with eight three-pointers yesterday to help (8) Wisconsin defeat (9) Virginia Tech, 84-74, and advance on to the 2nd round of the East regional, where they will matchup against No. 1 overall seed Villanova.
#1 Villanova Wildcats
Record: (32-3 overall, 15-3 conference)
Key players: Player of the Year candidate senior guard Josh Hart (18.7 PPG, 6.5 RPG, .509 FG%, .408 3P%), senior forward Kris Jenkins (13.3 PPG, 4.2 RPG, .388 FG%), and sophomore guard Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, .544 FG%, .393 3P%).
Summary of Season: Villanova did not miss a step this season after winning the 2016 National Championship.
Including last year’s postseason run, the Wildcats went on a 20-game winning streak to begin the season. Jay Wright and the reigning NCAA tournament champions did lose three regular season games (two against Butler and one against Marquette) during the 2016-17 campaign, but still clinched their 4th straight regular season Big East title against Creighton in late February.
After beating Creighton again for the Big East tournament title in the conference final, (1) Villanova struggled early on in yesterday’s first round contest against (16) Mount St. Mary’s. The defending champions did regroup after halftime and went on to win by 20 points, with the help of redshirt freshman guard Donte DiVincenzo. DiVincenzo came in off the bench to score a team-high 21 points and recorded a career-high 13 rebounds.
What Villanova will need to do to win:
Villanova cannot repeat their lackluster first half performance from yesterday’s game against Mount St. Mary’s if they want to return to the Sweet 16. The Wildcats uncharacteristically only made one three-pointer before intermission in the first round of the tournament. POY candidate Josh Hart converted that lone three but for Villanova to win they must put together a complete shooting performance as a team. Also, senior forward Darryl Reynolds (Nova’s primary big man) will need to lead coach Wright’s undersized frontcourt by forcing Wisconsin’s big men off the low block and protecting the paint for Villanova. For Nova to advance on to the next round, they must box out on the defensive end, as the Badgers are 9th in the nation in offensive rebounding.
What Wisconsin will need to do to win:
Wisconsin has a really good chance at winning this game if they can do a couple things right. For starters, they must get Bronson Koenig going early. The senior has a knack for showing up in big moments, as he did last year against Xavier in the Round of 32. Wisconsin will also have to establish the inside-out game by engaging Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes early on. By getting the big men involved, they’ll put pressure on Villanova’s thin frontcourt and open up shooting opportunities for Koenig (.393 3P%), Zak Showalter (.407 3P%), and D’Mitrik Trice (.427 3P%). Finally, as a team that ranks 31st in the nation in total rebounding, they will need to attack the boards and put pressure on an undersized Villanova team.
Bronson Koenig (Wisconsin) vs. Villanova defense
The most key matchup of the game will be how Villanova can contain senior Bronson Koenig. The point guard has proved time and time again that he is one of the most clutch players in the country when the bright lights are shining. He opened up yesterday’s Round of 64 matchup against Virginia Tech with a 28-point, 8 3-pointer performance. He has recorded nine 20-point games this year and has shown the ability to hit shots really quickly. Koenig is a legit scorer and if he gets hot, it would give Wisconsin a very good chance at coming out on top. Villanova must understand that while Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ are really strong players, the most important player to slow down will be Koenig because of his ability to dictate the tone of the game through hitting shots. Villanova should throw multiple different looks at Koenig. This may include starting with Jalen Brunson on him, but moving to Josh Hart and even Mikal Bridges (if Wisconsin goes with a small lineup).
Zak Showalter (Wisconsin) and Darryl Reynolds (Villanova)
Zak Showalter enters the game as one of the premier defenders in college basketball. It will be his job to attempt to slow down Villanova’s fantastic guard play. Whether it’s sticking Jalen Brunson or Josh Hart, he will have a major assignment that will play a huge role in the outcome of the game. At the same time, a large part of the Wisconsin game plan revolves around going through their big men, Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes. Villanova will have their hands full with their thin frontcourt. Darryl Reynolds, who covers the opposing team’s ‘5’, will have to make sure Happ and Hayes don’t have a field day. His defensive performance will be pivotal if they want to pull out the win.
Prediction: Villanova 70-66
This will most likely be a back and forth game, that closely resembles an Elite Eight matchup. Though Wisconsin is currently the only team to advance into the Sweet 16 over the past three years, Villanova will bring that appearance streak to an end. The Wildcats will come out on top due to their resiliency in tightly contested games and ability to manage games down the stretch.
Photo: Jim Rogash/Getty Images North America
No. 1 overall seed Villanova defeated (16) Mount St. Mary’s, 76-56, in the first round of the East regional. The Wildcats entered halftime with a 1-point lead over the Mountaineers despite struggling to settle into the game early on. Villanova went on a 21-6 run to start the second half, which helped them pull away from the Mountaineers and ultimately secure the win.
Redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo scored a team-high 21 points and recorded a career-high 13 rebounds, while sophomores Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges added 14 and 13 points respectively. The Mountaineers were led in scoring by freshman Miles Wilson, who had a game-high 22 points, and sophomore Elijah Long, who finished with 10 points.
Up next for the Wildcats is (8) Wisconsin/(9) Virginia Tech this Saturday in the second round of the East Regional.
Photo: AP Photo/John Minchillo
Benjamin Simon and William Derry
Mount St. Mary’s
Record: (20-15 overall, 14-4 conference)
Key players: Sophomore guard Elijah Long (15.1 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, .420 FG%, .395 3P%), junior guard Junior Robinson (14.3 PPG, 2.9 APG, .425 FG%, .399 3P%), and freshman guard Miles Wilson (11.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, .461 FG%, .367 3P%).
Summary of Season: Mount St. Mary’s started the 2016-17 season 1-11 overall after being picked to finish 4th in the Northeast conference (NEC) preseason coaches poll. The Mountaineers rebounded by going 19-4 to finish the season and won the NEC regular season title for the first time in 21 years with a victory over St. Francis (BKN).
With single-digit wins in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the NEC tournament, the Mountaineers defeated St. Francis (PA) by 10 points for the conference championship and earned an automatic tournament bid as a result.
Despite a late push by New Orleans in yesterday’s first round matchup in Dayton, Ohio, the Mountaineers escaped with a 1-point win and advanced on to the 2nd round of the tournament to face the No. 1 overall seed in Villanova.
Though the Mountaineers compete in a non-power 5 conference, they faced West Virginia, Iowa State, Minnesota and Michigan during non-conference play earlier this season. That experience against power 5 conference teams should help prepare head coach Jamion Christian and his group for Villanova.
Record: (31-3 overall, 15-3 conference)
Key players: Player of the Year candidate senior guard Josh Hart (18.9 PPG, 6.5 RPG, .508 FG%, .407 3P%), senior forward Kris Jenkins (13.4 PPG, 4.2 RPG, .372 FG%), and sophomore guard Jalen Brunson (14.8 PPG, 4.2 APG, .541 FG%, .396 3P%).
Summary of Season: Villanova did not miss a step this season after winning the 2016 National Championship.
Including last year’s postseason run, the Wildcats went on a 20-game winning streak to begin the season. However, Jay Wright and the reigning NCAA tournament champions did lose three regular season games (two against Butler and one against Marquette) during the 2016-17 campaign, but still clinched their 4th straight regular season Big East title against Creighton in late February.
The Wildcats beat Creighton again for the Big East tournament title after a 41-point victory over St. John’s in the quarterfinals and 2-point victory over Seton Hall in the semifinals. Nova earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament and have the most wins (31) of a defending champion entering the tournament.
What Villanova will need to do to win:
Villanova will need to continue to shoot a high-percentage from the field. The Wildcats are currently shooting 50% overall, which is sixth best in the nation, and 37% from three. Villanova head coach Jay Wright will rely on seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, and Darryl Reynolds to set the tone and provide veteran leadership in this early round matchup against Mount St. Mary’s. Despite entering tournament-play as the No. 1 overall seed, the Wildcats will need to limit the Mountaineers’ chances around the basket. If Nova can force the Mountaineers into long-range attempts instead of drives to the basket then the Wildcats will all but eliminate Mount St. Mary’s offensive scheme.
What Mount St. Mary’s will need to do to win:
Mount St. Mary’s will need major scoring from their backcourt trio in Junior Robinson, Elijah Long, and Miles Wilson. The three combine for 60% of the team’s 68 points per game. In order to defeat the Wildcats, they will need to jump out early and find a way to score consistently throughout the game. That will start with these three guys. The Mountaineers will also have to run the Wildcats off the 3-point line. If they’re able to force Villanova into struggling from beyond the arc, they’ll have a much better chance at history. In the three games that Villanova lost this season, they shot 18 for 74 (24%) from 3. The Wildcats shot 37% from 3-pointers on the year which has extremely helped them open up free driving lanes. They are an extremely efficient team when the 3’s are falling, as they rank second in the nation in 2-point conversion percentage, at 59.7%, as a result of the space the 3 ball creates. Mount St. Mary’s will have to replicate the disturbance that Butler and Marquette caused on Villanova’s three point shots.
Jalen Brunson vs. Junior Robinson
The battle of the little guards. If Mount St. Mary’s has any chance, they’ll need big play from a big time player. Robinson, who is the shortest player in Division 1 college basketball at 5-foot-5, is steaming hot right now, coming off 20 point outings in three of his last four games. He’s lightning quick and a gamer, as proved in his first round matchup against New Orleans (23 points on 9-14 shooting). It will be Brunson’s job to neutralize him early and make sure he doesn’t catch fire, like he has shown he can do so many times this year. Likewise, if Robinson can find a way to contain Brunson and make it tough for him to get the Villanova offense going, that will be the start of good news for Mount St. Mary’s. The problem is few defenders have been able to disrupt Brunson this entire year. Robinson will surely need to do so in order to pull off the improbable win.
Chris Wray (Mount St. Mary’s) and Donte DiVincenzo (Villanova)
One way to defeat Villanova would also be through their thin frontcourt. Not many teams, however, have been able to take advantage of the defending national champions’ lack of size up front. For Mount St. Mary’s to do that, it has to start with 6-foot-8 junior Chris Wray. In arguably the Mountaineers most impressive victory this season, against a 20-13 George Mason team, Wray notched a career-high 21 points and 10 points after shooting 10-13 from the field. Donte DiVincenzo will also play a major role for Villanova off the bench. If the game is close early on, the Delaware native will be relied on to provide a spark off the bench. The starters may not be clicking and it will be DiVincenzo’s job to bring energy and get the team back on track.
Prediction: 80-50 Villanova Wildcats
Although Mount St. Mary’s has the hot hand coming into this contest after defeating New Orleans yesterday in the first round, Villanova’s skill, size and experience will be too much for the Mountaineers to compete with. Nova’s overall team skill will overwhelm the Mountaineers and will force them to play from behind for most of the game. Nova will cruise past the Mountaineers and advance on into the Round of 32 unscathed.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA Today Sports
Entering March Madness, Villanova has become the most dominant college team in the country. Currently the Wildcats are ranked number one in the country and are the defending national champions. They also have two of the most dynamic guards in the country with Mr. Do-It-All Josh Hart and All-Big East First Teamer Jalen Brunson, who spurned talk about leaving for the NBA and returned to Villanova for his sophomore year. Yet with all of the positives going for Jay Wright and the Wildcats there are still some glaring holes that could potentially prevent Villanova from defending their national title crown.
The biggest figurative and literal issue for ‘Nova stems from academics, that left a huge void in the middle of the Wildcats lineup. While Daniel Ochefu’s graduation was expected, Ochefu was supposed to be replaced by Omari Spellman. Spellman is a 6-foot-9, 265-pound five-star recruit that would be the necessary presence in the interior for Jay Wright and his squad as they are on their quest to win consecutive national titles. Yet due to Spellman transferring to a private school as a 9th grader and being reclassified as an 8th grader, Spellman was considered ineligible for this year.
That lack of size inside could be exploited against basketball blue bloods Duke, Kentucky, or even their potential second round matchup in Wisconsin. For the Blue Devils, the combination of Jayson Tatum and Amile Jefferson could exploit Villanova’s lack of a true center in an NCAA tournament game. Against the likes of Wisconsin, the Wildcats will have to deal with 6-foot-10 Ethan Happ, who put up nearly 14 points per game and 9 rebounds.
The formula can also ring true if Villanova goes against John Calipari and Kentucky in the title game. Freshman Edrice Adebayo and sophomore Isaac Humphries could control the paint and end the title run of Villanova. What makes Kentucky scarier than Duke has been the play of Malik Monk, who put up 47 points against North Carolina earlier in the season.
The second glaring issue for Villanova is depth. Not only does Spellman’s lose still hurt, but so does Phil Booth’s injury. Booth appeared in all 40 games for the Wildcats last season but primarily came off the bench. Booth has been sidelined with tendinitis in his left knee and has not appeared in a game since November 17th. Booth has yet to appear in a game. While there have been no signs of Hart and Brunson wearing down, who knows what another month of basketball could do. The Wildcats have been lucky by the emergence of redshirt freshman Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged 8.3 points per game and 3.5 rebounds off the bench.
While these are two factors that hurt Villanova on paper, it has not yet hurt their performance so far. They currently have the talent to defeat most teams even with their lack of size and depth. But all it takes is one slip up in March to end your season.
Photo: Yong Kim/Philly.com
As all college basketball fans know, Villanova is the reigning and defending National Champions after an unexpected title run last spring. The national title was hard fought for and well deserved for Jay Wright and company. Not only did the Wildcats prove their legitimacy as a program, but they validated the entire Big East conference with their performance in March Madness. And while Nova is atop Mount Olympus there are several contenders that will challenge their supremacy in the Big East in 2016-2017.
One of the few teams that was able to obtain a victory against Villanova last year was Xavier. While the Musketeers lost forwards Jalen Reynolds and James Farr, coach Chris Mack still has talent returning this season. The guard play will be strong with Trevon Bluiett and Edmund Summers and sparkplug J.P. Macura, who is transitioning from 6th man to starter this season for X. While the backcourt is a proven commodity in Big East play, the frontcourt is unproven entering this season. Sean O’Mara and Rashid Gaston will be getting most of the minutes at forward as Xavier looks to utilize a smaller lineup similar to the style that is implemented at Villanova.
This year’s Blue Jay roster was built in an unconventional style as coach Greg McDermott acquired several key players via transfer. In 2016, the team’s leading scorer and assist man was Maurice Watson Jr., who transferred into Creighton from Boston University. Watson Jr. now has some extra help this year with Kansas State transfer Marcus Forster becoming eligible after sitting out the 2015-16 season. In his two seasons at Kansas State, Forster averaged 14. 1 points. Cole Huff, a transfer from Nevada will get major minutes at forward and provide interior scoring and defense to help out coach McDermott’s crew. The Jays already are building an impressive resume after beating Washington State, NC State, Ole Miss, and #9 ranked Wisconsin.
While Villanova came away with the national title, Seton Hall was able to cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden by defeating the Wildcats in the Big East final 69-67. Gone for the Pirates is Isaiah Whitehead, but coach Kevin Willard still has talent returning to campus in South Orange, New Jersey. While Whitehead left for greener pastures, Khadeen Carrington is willing and able to be the premier scoring threat for Seton Hall this season. The paint will be anchored by junior forward Angel Delgado who could average a double double this season. Coach Willard also has a glue guy that can do almost anything on the floor in the form of forward Desi Rodriguez. He can score, rebound, and defend. Rodriguez could do the dirty work that would allow the Pirates to turn bad losses into tough wins.
While the season is still in its infancy, the Big East will be a challenge for the Wildcats. The tough conference play can either strengthen the team and allow ‘Nova to make another deep run into March or the intense competition can wear out Nova and make them vulnerable to an early exit in the postseason.
Photo: Sarah Hoffman/The World-Herald
Donte DiVincenzo is a name you know if you’re a Villanova fan or from Delaware. But that’s about it.
Even if you’re a Villanova fan you might not know his name entirely, but rather as “that blonde kid in the suit.” If it wasn’t for the injuries to his foot, you might’ve heard his name a bit more.
The 6-foot-4 guard was a high school stud at the Salesianum School in Wilmington. He single-handedly brought the Sallies to consecutive Delaware state championships his junior and senior years. His averages of 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists per game over the course of that season earned him the title of Player of the Year by the Delaware Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association. As his future college coach, Jay Wright, would put it, "[he] is one of the most heralded players to come out of Delaware in a long time.”
To many, DiVincenzo was seen as a secondary piece in his freshman class behind Jalen Brunson. The fracture of the fifth metatarsal bone didn’t help much, either. The wound held DiVincenzo from action from early December until the end of the season. “I know he will be better because of this,” Wright said on Villanova.com following the news’ release. It was a disappointment, definitely, but a deep playoff run and an entire offseason to recover has helped recuperate the guard and put him in a position to be a consistent contributor this season.
With only 13 games under his belt as a college athlete, five of them from this season, DiVincenzo has some growth still to come. His time on court is limited, sensibly. Averaging 18 minutes on the hardwood through five games is a solid plan for coach Wright. ‘Nova seems to turn out guards year after year, so there is not a rush to push DiVincenzo into the rotation this early in the season.
While on the court, DiVincenzo has been active, scoring about 8 points per game, collecting about 3 rebounds, and 1 assist. A humble stat line for a sophomore coming off of injury.
The skillset is definitely there with DiVincenzo. There isn’t a worry about production down the line because he is at full health and these early games are good for testing matchups and offensive sets. As BigEastCoastBias.com noted, [he] also has accurate range from downtown, which fits perfectly into Wright’s system of solid shooting and guard dominated lineups. It is safe to say that if you are a guard in the Villanova system and are a solid shooter that you will thrive.”
They also mentioned his ability to play the other end of the floor exceedingly well, saying, “If the Wildcats want to play small with three guards on the floor at one time, DiVincenzo can battle with taller players and hold his own defensively. His athleticism is great too and the new Wildcat can play above the basket.”
Unfortunately for the ‘Cats, Phil Booth is out with a left knee issue that coach Wright calls “not serious,” but that leaves the door open for DiVincenzo to assume a larger role minutes-wise. Upcoming for Villanova is three straight Big 5 contests against Penn, Saint Joseph’s, and Temple.
An intriguing battle to look out for is December 3 against St. Joe’s. DiVincenzo against Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble at the guard position is a Philadelphia-area dream matchup. The two come from prestigious high school programs (Kimble a Neumann-Goretti graduate and Philadelphia resident) and take part in a regional rivalry second-to-none. If you didn’t know DiVincenzo’s name before, you will soon.
Villanova face the University of Pennsylvania Quakers on Tuesday, November 29, 2016 at the Palestra.
Photo: Matt Gregory | VU Hoops
Tom McAlister & Benjamin Simon
Entering the 2015-16 season, Villanova had established themselves as the model Big East program, but was criticized for not making a deep run in the NCAA tournament. As the regular season played out Villanova won the Big East regular season title and made it all the way to the Big East tournament final before they were upended by upstart Seton Hall, 69-67. Yet, that was the last time the Wildcats faced defeat that season as they tore through the NCAA tournament. In route to the NCAA title game, the Wildcats imposed their will on their opponents. The Jay Wright coached team won four of their five NCAA tournament games by at least 19 points. The only exception was a 64-59 win against Kansas in the South Regional Final. After getting a measure of revenge by trouncing Oklahoma 95-51 in the national semifinals, ‘Nova had a date with North Carolina for the NCAA tournament title. In an instant classic Kris Jenkins made one of the most historic shots in the history of basketball to propel Villanova to a 77-74 win over the Tar Heels, making them champions of the world.
Ryan Arcidiacono (G, graduation), Patrick Farrell (F, graduation), Henry Lowe (G, graduation), Daniel Ochefu (C, graduation), Kevin Rafferty (F, graduation)
The two biggest losses to Villanova entering the 2016-17 season are the graduations of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. Arcidiacono was a four-year starter for Jay Wright and a great leader. His basketball IQ and ability to get others involved in the offense made him one of the best guards in the country. All of these characteristics were demonstrated in the last few seconds of Arcidiacono’s college basketball career. After Marcus Paige hit a circus shot to tie up the National Championship game, Arcidiacono did not hesitate and pushed the ball up the floor and was able to get the ball to Kris Jenkins with enough time left to hit the winning shot.
Daniel Ochefu improved each year under coach Wright while at Villanova. In his freshman year, Ochefu was used sparingly, but as time progressed, Ochefu improved and became a key part of the Wildcats’ success. Ochefu eventually made the starting lineup in his junior and senior season and provided invaluable size for Villanova. The Wildcats had the best guards in the country but the addition of Ochefu provided balance to the offense and kept Villanova from becoming overmatched in the rebounding department.
Tim Delaney (F, R-Fr.), Denny Grace (G, Sr. Walk-on), Matt Kennedy (G, Jr., Walk-on), Tom Leibig (F, Jr., Walk-on), Dylan Painter (F, Fr.), Eric Paschall (F, R-Soph, Transfer)
The crown jewel for the 2016 recruiting class was Omari Spellman, but the five star recruit has been declared academically ineligible and will not be able to play in the 2016-17 season. While Spellman will sit out, former Fordham player Eric Paschall will join the Wildcats after sitting out last season because of transfer rules. While playing for the Rams in his freshman year, Paschall was named Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year after averaging 15.9 points per game. When Tom Pecora was let go at Fordham, Paschall left the Bronx school for ‘Nova. Paschall will be a nightmare matchup in the Big East because he has guard skills in a 6-foot-7, 250 pound frame. Expect Paschall to make his presence felt on the offensive end and on the boards.
Coach Wright also brings two new big man faces to the table. Highly touted recruit Dylan Painter, who is a well rounded offensive player and a strong rim protector. In his year playing EYBL ball for Team Final, Painter averaged 2.2 blocks per game, ranking him fifth on the circuit. The team also brings back Tim Delaney, who won a Group 1 New Jersey state championship his junior season at Pitman High School, returns from hip surgery.
Projected Starting Lineup
G: Jalen Brunson (Proj. Stat. 11 PPG, 4 APG, 1.5 SPG)
Brunson was the highest tabbed recruit for the Wildcats’ 2015 freshman class and he lived up to the billing. The consensus top 25 recruit was able to crack the Villanova starting lineup and averaged 9.6 points and 1.8 assist in his debut season. With the departure of Arcidiacono, there will be more playing time for Brunson and as a result, he will spend more time at point guard this year. Expect Brunson to improve from his freshman year, but might not be able to steal headlines because of all the talent on the roster.
G: Josh Hart (Proj. Stat.13 PPG, 6 RPG, 3 APG)
Hart had an outstanding 2016 campaign that earned him First Team All-Big East. While he flirted with making the jump to the NBA, Hart ultimately decided to return to Villanova for his senior year. Hart was a versatile player, as he led the team in scoring with 15.5 points and was the squad's second best rebounder at 6.8 boards per game. While there will be little to change in Hart’s stat line, he will have to fill the leadership void left by the graduation of Arcidiacono. Although he is a talented player, one cannot help but wonder if Hart will be more focused on a potential NBA future than the 2016-17 ‘Nova season. If he’s focused, Hart will be one of the best players in the nation.
G: Phil Booth (Proj. Stat. 9 PPG, 2.5 APG, 1 SPG)
In the last two seasons Phil Booth has been the top guard off Jay Wright’s bench. This year, his junior season, Booth will finally make the starting five. Booth can play both guard spots, which will help with speed and the creation of mismatches on the offensive end. In addition, with the trio of guards ‘Nova has and the propensity to play man-to-man defense, odds are one ‘Nova guard will have a mismatch on offense if not all three.
F: Kris Jenkins (Proj. Stat. 15 PPG, 7 RPG, 1 BPG)
Big Smooth became a household name after hitting one of the most iconic shots in all of basketball to end the 2016 basketball season. Jenkins will build on the momentum from the 2016 NCAA tournament final and make an impact all throughout the 2016-17 season. With the departure of Ochefu and Spellman’s ineligibility, Jenkins will be the premier forward in Jay Wright's lineup this upcoming season. It will also be interesting to see if Jenkins becomes a premier player on the perimeter or improves on his post-game to provide interior scoring the Wildcats will need going forward.
F Eric Paschall (Proj. Stat. 11 points 6.5 rebounds 2.5 assist a game)
In his first year of eligibility at Villanova, Paschall will be in the starting lineup. Given his size and talent it will be difficult for college teams to stop Paschall in his debut season for the Wildcats. There are many different ways Paschall can contribute, through scoring, rebounding, and distributing the basketball. When Paschall is at his best, he will be a stat stuffer.
Mikal Bridges (G/F, Soph.), Tim Delaney (F, R-Fr.), Donte Divincenzo (G, Soph.), Dylan Painter (F, Fresh), Darryl Reynolds (F, Sr.)
When comparing this year’s team to last years, the 2016 edition appeared to have a deeper bench, but there is still an abundance of talent coming off the bench for the Wildcats in 2017. Reynolds and Bridges both saw significant time last year and will be the first two off the bench this season for coach Wright. Reynolds will be the first forward to enter the game and will be used if coach Wright wants to use a bigger lineup. Bridges will be the first guard off the bench but most likely will not be playing point guard. Divincenzo has not been seen since December of 2015 because of a broken bone in his foot, but expect Divincenzo to get some time as the second guard off the bench. With Spellman being declared ineligible, Painter has become the best freshman forward on the team. There could be a chance for Painter to contribute and play big minutes as the season progresses in his freshman campaign.
at Purdue (November 14, 2016)
Expect the Boilermakers to provide an early test for Villanova as the Wildcats travel to West Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue is returning three starters from an NCAA tournament team and will be led by forwards Caleb Swanigan and Vincent Edwards. Villanova will have their interior defense tested by these two star forwards, and when you throw into the mix 7-foot-2 Isaac Haas, it could be a tough night early in November for Villanova.
vs Notre Dame (December 10, 2016 at Newark, NJ)
Mike Brey is one of the most underrated coaches in the NCAA and uses a similar formula as Villanova. Brey usually goes after players who will stay for four years and develops them exponentially in their time playing for the Fighting Irish. Brey does return three of his five starters from last year in V.J. Beachem, Steve Vasturia, and Bonzie Colson. And similar to ‘Nova, Notre Dame made a deep NCAA run in 2016 by making it to the Elite Eight. Expect a solid basketball game when these two programs meet.
at Xavier (February 11, 2017)
While Villanova has become the most successful Big East program, the Musketeers are not that far behind. Every time these two teams meet there is tremendous buildup and anticipation. Expect the same in 2017. Xavier will be contending for supremacy in the Big East along with Villanova and with the realignment of the Big East, Xavier vs. Villanova could be the marquee rivalry in the conference.
After earning their crown as world champions, the Villanova Wildcats should be able to follow up their unbelievable season with another successful campaign in 2016-17. It won’t be easy though. The Wildcats have a tough non-conference schedule that includes Purdue, North Carolina, Virginia, and a revamped La Salle team. They will also have to square up with talented teams night in and night out in the Big East. Excluding Villanova, the conference has two teams (Xavier and Creighton) featured in the preseason top 25. Not only that but Georgetown returns blossoming big man Jesse Govan and talented guard L.J. Peak, while Butler brings back junior forward Kelan Martin. Even outside of the top teams, the Big East is packed with talent. The Wildcats are also extremely skilled and should have no problem competing every evening as the favorite to win.
“You look at the draft, who got drafted, where guys got drafted, who didn’t, and you’re like, ‘Dang, look what happened to those guys.’ You want to be able to have the best opportunity, not just growing as a player but growing as a man. The best thing would be extending the (entry) decision for a week or so, so they have the best feel for what’s going on. There’s nothing worse than you taking that risk and it doesn’t pan out, and now you don’t have a diploma. As a peer you hate to see that.” – Josh Hart via Asbury Park Press
“So you have to beat Villanova. Sometimes teams have an off game, but very seldom does Villanova make more mistakes than the team they’re playing. When you can do that, you’ve got a great chance to win. There’s a few pieces gone. Certainly [Ryan] Arcidiacono was a big part of their leadership core, but Jay’s done such a good job of getting other guys to step up.” -Creighton Coach Greg McDermott via Big East Coast Bias
“Josh Hart is terrific and Jalen Brunson, I think, has a chance to be a great player in this league. It’s not going to be easy, but someone has to figure out a way to go in there and win, because they’re so dominant on their home floor.” - Creighton Coach Greg McDermott via Big East Coast Bias
“It’s been crazy. Your life changes; I think the players’ life changes. I watch Kris Jenkins everywhere he goes, everybody knows who he is. Even the President of the United States walked into the room and said ‘Hey Kris, big shot!’” – Jay Wright via Big East Coast Bias
“We understand this is a new season, 0-0.” – Darryl Reynolds via Big East Coast Bias
“We’re really excited about him. He really took advantage of his sit out year... worked extremely hard, changed his body. We’re really excited about Eric Paschall. I don’t want to put too much pressure on him early, because you know he’s gotta learn how to play in the Big East. I think this’ll be a good year for him, but I’m really excited about what he can become.” - Jay Wright via Big East Coast Bias
Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire
At the start of the 2013-14 season, many people declared the Big East dead after Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and more left for greener pastures. For so long, the Big East had set the bar for excellence when it came to college basketball. Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin led their respective schools and the Big East to national prominence and were instrumental when the Big East reached its pinnacle. In 1985, Ewing led the Georgetown Hoyas, while Mullin was the driving force for the St. John's Redmen, each bringing their team to the Final Four. Even though Ewing and Mullin had star power, the team that cut down the nets at the 1985 was upstart Villanova. In one year, the Big East had three of the four members of the Final Four, a feat that was never accomplished up until 1985.
As time went on, the Big East kept on adding to its reputation as a powerful basketball conference. Passing through the league were Hall of Fame caliber players such as Ray Allen and Allen Iverson. Magical moments would occur during the Big East tournament such as the epic 6 overtime game between Syracuse and UConn in 2009. Yet many of these universities, who made their reputation in the Big East, abandoned the conference.
During the remodeling of the Big East in 2013, it became a conference that had ten universities that did not have Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision programs. Gone were Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and UConn just to name a few. Basketball fans were no longer going to see Syracuse vs Georgetown or Pittsburgh vs. West Virginia on a yearly basis. UConn, which has won four national titles since 1999, keeps on being shunned by the major conferences. Many people were calling the Big East a dormant conference that should be relegated to mid-major status.
Yet, since the onset of the reformed Big East, Villanova has compiled an astonishing 48-6 conference record, translating to a winning percentage of .888. In all three seasons, Villanova has been the regular season conference champion. There was also a Big East tournament crown in 2015 and an appearance in the 2016 Big East Final, which many have made ‘Nova back-to-back conference tournament champs, had it not been for Isaiah Whitehead’s heroics.
There have also been other solid teams during the first three years of the Big East. Teams such as Providence, St. John's, Creighton, and Butler have had stints in the top 25. Xavier made a Sweet 16 run in 2015 and Seton Hall, on the strength of their sophomore class, won the Big East tournament. But none of the programs have had the consistency of success that Jay Wright and crew have had in the last three years. Each of these teams had flashes of greatness in the Big East but Villanova has been great since the inception of the Big East. While some would still critique the Big East because it is not a mega conglomerate of 16 schools that can feast off football revenue, Villanova legitimized its program and conference this spring.
In 2014 and 2015 the Wildcats were unable to have successful runs in the NCAA tournament after being ousted in the field of 32 both times. Certain people believed that just like all the other Big East teams, ‘Nova would have a short stay in the NCAA tournament. What occurred was exactly the opposite, as Villanova played the best basketball a team could play in their biggest games.
In the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament, Villanova won by an average of 24 points until Kansas gave them a close game but the Wildcats still won 64-59. In the national semifinal, ‘Nova absolutely manhandled the Oklahoma Sooners by a 95-51 scoreline. The victory was a measure of revenge for a loss at Pearl Harbor earlier and it also set up a national title game berth.
And that NCAA title game between North Carolina Tar Heels and Villanova Wildcats was epic. In a back and forth game the final moments were legendary. The Tar Heels were fighting to erase a late game deficit and finally tied the score on Marcus Paige’s off-balance three-point shot. As difficult as the shot was, it was not the last shot of the game. Ryan Arcidiacono was able to push the ball up the floor into the hands of Kris Jenkins and as the buzzer sounded Jenkin’s shot went in and will live on in eternity with other great shots such as Lorenzo Charles’ and Christian Laettner’s.
In a span of three years Villanova was able to expand on its basketball legacy. The Wildcats not only imposed their will on their conference opponents, but after heartache in previous seasons, legitimized their program by being the last team standing in the NCAA tournament. And now, the 2016-17 season can just add to the aura that now surrounds Villanova basketball.
Photo: Eric Gay/AP
-#1 overall seed Villanova upset by #8 seed Wisconsin in Round of 32