Villanova guard Phil Booth.
(Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
A large part of Villanova’s success in recent years has been their x-factors. Whether it was Donte DiVincenzo in last year’s run or Darryl Reynolds and his heroic effort in Daniel Ochefu’s absence two years ago, Villanova head coach Jay Wright has thrived off having players step up when it wasn’t expected of them. This year that will be more important than ever, as Wright and company will look to find those new x-factors with the thick of tough conference play right ahead. In this article, we will take a look at two players who may not be on everyone’s radar, but will need to play a major role down the stretch for Villanova to bring home an NCAA Championship banner once again.
Phil Booth returns after sitting out the majority of last season due to injury. The hero from Villanova’s championship victory over North Carolina has certainly picked up where he left off. In 16 games, Booth has averaged 12.4 points per game, 3.2 rebounds, and 3 assists, while shooting 52% from the field and 44% from three. The guard has proved to be an integral part of the team’s success, scoring in double digits in 11 of the team’s 15 wins and in the one game Villanova lost, Booth scored a mere 4 points, his second lowest total on the year. For Villanova to win, they’re going to need Booth night in and night out.
At the same time, Booth has lacked the credit he deserves. Many look to Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, and Omari Spellman as the main sources of success for Villanova. But the bottom line is that Booth plays just as important of a role. Shifting more to off the ball, Booth has accepted the role perfectly, providing another ball handler in the backcourt to help out Brunson when necessary. He has showed he can hit the three consistently as well. During his freshman year, he did just that, shooting 48%. But he struggled during his sophomore campaign, knocking down only 31%. This year, he has gotten back to those freshman year numbers with the second highest clip on the team.
Jay Wright has made it clear just how important Booth is to the team off the court as well. He called the redshirt-junior “the most revered guy on the team, the most respected” in an interview with the Daily News’ John Smallwood. Coming off a season ending injury, Booth has certainly captured the heart of the team, especially considering the fact that he wasn’t 100% for much of non-conference play.
In early December, following their win at Saint Joseph’s, Wright added that, “You don’t take the year off and come back that easily, but he will get there.” Throughout the long process of working back to 100%, Booth has set an impression on his teammates, showing that he is going to keep fighting through the setbacks. Likewise, he has been one of the team’s most productive players all season, despite the fact that he hasn’t been totally healthy. He may finally be getting to that point of 100% health, as he has scored 15-plus points in three of the last five games, including a season-high 21 points in their last game against Xavier.
Even though Booth may not be Villanova’s biggest or most athletic player, his ability to affect the game both on and off the court cannot be overlooked. He also brings aggression, leadership, and a three-point threat to a team that thrives off those attributes. If Booth can keep up his strong play and continue to be healthy, he provides the perfect complement to the Villanova stars.
With injuries starting to affect the Villanova depth, Jay Wright needs more help from unlikely sources off the bench. After Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels both went down with a hand fracture a few weeks ago, the Wildcats were left with just DiVincenzo and Dhamir “DaDa” Cosby-Roundtree as the only regular bench pieces left from the beginning of the season. While DiVincenzo’s role won’t necessarily change, Cosby-Roundtree’s will have to, as Wright seems unwilling to try out additional options off the bench.
In their only loss against Butler, Wright was uncharacteristically pushed to play four of his five starters (in addition to DiVincenzo) for more than 30 minutes. With the exception of DiVincenzo, who regularly plays a large amount of minutes, the rest of the bench received a total of 8 minutes (6 for Cosby-Roundtree and 2 for Tim Delaney). That left Mikal Bridges as the team leader in minutes per game, averaging 31.7, with Brunson not far behind at 30.6.
They are the only two to average more than 30 minutes per game. Two years ago, when the Wildcats captured their second National Championship, Ryan Arcidiacono led the team in minutes per game with 32.1. Wright doesn’t want his starters to play the whole game and will aim to keep all of his starters’ minutes in the low 30’s or high 20’s as the season progresses. With that said, he will need to have productive players off the bench to spill the starters in conference play when games are closer together. That’s where we get to Cosby-Roundtree.
Cosby-Roundtree has largely been touted as a player with a high defensive ceiling. Listed at 6-foot-9, 220 pounds, the big man’s presence seems much more imposing on the court than his measurements may suggest. He owns the second highest total rebounding percentage of players receiving regular minutes. Cosby-Roundtree brings aspects to the floor that no other Villanova player brings. He represents the new shift of big men in basketball: he’s an athletic, instinctive defensive minded center who can run the floor and finish at a high level. While Spellman is bigger than Cosby-Roundtree, he is used more as a scoring threat for the Wildcats. Their skill sets complement each other and could provide the Wildcats with a scary frontcourt presence (including, possibly, Eric Paschall at the ‘3’) that they haven’t had in recent years.
If Villanova can receive help from Cosby-Roundtree, it could go a long way in maintaining the starters’ minutes and providing an interior defensive presence that would allow the Wildcats to defend the perimeter even harder. The Neumann-Goretti graduate still has work to do, but with the injuries to their bench, Jay Wright is going to need more out of Cosby-Roundtree. His potential as an x-factor will go a long way in another NCAA championship run.
-(1) Villanova defeats (3) Michigan in the National Championship