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
-(1) Villanova faces (5) West Virginia in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament