Saturday, March 16, 2019

Green’s takeaways from Villanova’s third straight Big East tournament crown

Photo Credit: Geno Green- College Sports Overload

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

The Villanova Wildcats (25-9) made history as they became the first school to win three straight Big East Tournament titles in a 74-72 nail-biter over the Seton Hall Pirates (20-13). Here are my takeaways from Madison Square Garden.

1) The youth movement rose to the occasion:

While Eric Paschall and Phil Booth have been the constants for most of the season, Villanova’s underclassmen delivered in the Big East tournament final. Saddiq Bey did a little bit of everything as the freshman recorded his second career double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the championship game.

Paschall and Booth’s influence rubbed off on the young group, but took a little longer than expected to gel.

“They helped us through every practice and game and made us more comfortable,” Bey said. “Coach [Wright] said that everyone needed to make plays when they gave the ball up and it was great to have a couple of guys to help in the growth.”

Bey started the tournament struggling to find his shot from the perimeter, but found his comfort zone over the last three games.

“[Saddiq’s] first two of three shots were airballs and then after that, just had great games,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright said.

Jermaine Samuels’ contributions to the Wildcats on both ends came in different forms as the sophomore finished with 12 points and seven rebounds in 33 minutes.

While Villanova coach Jay Wright views Samuels as an upperclassman, the experience was exponential over the past week.

“I’m even counting Main-O as an upperclassman because he hangs with [Phil Booth and Eric Paschall] so much,” Wright said. “Main-O is inexperienced, but man, he was great in this tournament.”

2) Overcoming adversity:

After unexpected early season losses to Furman and Pennsylvania, Villanova looked more like a team bound for the NIT, but as the season progressed, the more it blossomed back into a potential postseason team and a contender in the Big East regular season title picture.

Losing Jalen Brunson, Donte DiVincenzo, Omari Spellman and Mikal Bridges to the NBA Draft in the offseason made the task more daunting, but Wright looked adversity in the eye and tore it down piece by piece behind Paschall and Booth’s influence on the underclassmen.

“They have been like coaches this season. We can do so much on the court, but they’ve got to take guys in the locker room and teach them how to prepare for practice and games,” Wright said. “They’ve been like big brothers, fathers almost to these guys.”

3) History at Madison Square Garden:

Through the rich history of the Big East conference, teams have come and gone such as Syracuse, Connecticut, Louisville and Pittsburgh. While their contributions to the league were monumental, no one could ever lay claim to three straight tournament crowns until the Wildcats accomplished that feat on Saturday night.

Jay Wright was even keeled and taken back by the accomplishments over the years.

“It’s a little overwhelming when you think of the great teams past and present and we are very humbled by it and take great pride in being in the Big East,” Wright said. 

Paschall and Booth set out to achieve goals, but never thought about winning back-to-back-to-back crowns as the result.

“We never really talked about it. We just talked about being the greatest Villanova team we could ever be and there was nothing really like that in our plan,” Paschall said.

“You can’t really talk about it and try to think in your mind and think we won three straight tournament championships. It doesn’t happen like that,” Booth said.

4) Villanova’s potential NCAA tournament seeding:

While Marquette and Seton Hall are virtual locks to make the 68-team field in Sunday’s NCAA tournament selection show, Villanova will likely be the highest seeded of the Big East schools given the regular season and tournament crowns.

No matter where the seeding is, the Wildcats have a chance to fly under the radar as the nation will focus primarily on schools such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee as the main threats to claim the national title.

Despite its ups and downs, the Wildcats have grown and could cause trouble. Only time will tell, but Wright put together arguably his best coaching job regardless of where their season ends.