Thursday, October 25, 2018

Wildcats look to stay on top of the college basketball landscape

Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Villanova Wildcats

2017-18 Record: 36-4, 14-4 Big East
2017-18 Postseason: NCAA Tournament National Champions
Coach: Jay Wright, 422-165 (.718) at Villanova, 18th season

Key losses:

Omari Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges

Key returning players:

Phil Booth, Eric Paschall

Notable games:

Nov. 14 vs Michigan
Dec. 15 at Kansas
Dec. 22 vs Connecticut (New York City)
Jan. 5 at Providence
Jan. 18 vs Xavier
Feb. 9 at Marquette

NEW YORK CITY- The grind of becoming the cream of the crop doesn’t come overnight.

The Villanova Wildcats put themselves among the elite programs in college basketball with their second national title in the last three seasons. Despite the accomplishments, the Wildcats find themselves in unchartered territory as they lost Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to the NBA Draft in the first 33 picks.

Despite the losses, coach Jay Wright has pillars in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall returning for their senior seasons.

Booth returned from injury to provide a constant presence for Villanova with 2.9 assists per game and 10 points per game. Paschall proved to be more of a scoring threat with 10.6 PPG and 5.3 rebounds per game last season and knows the role will increase this season as one of the vocal leaders.

Collin Gillespie’s role should increase as a potential starter for the Wildcats. Gillespie showed a glimpse of his ability to be a threat on offense when Phil Booth missed nearly a month of action in Jan./Feb. with a fractured bone in his right shooting hand. The then-freshman scored in double figures in three out of seven games played when Booth is out.

With no juniors on the roster, Wildcats coach Jay Wright will count on sophomores like Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree to produce in most games.

“There’s a lot of pressure on Phil Booth and Eric Paschall not just as players, but as teachers to be leaders,” Wright said at Big East media day on Thursday. “We don’t have a junior class, so our four players in the sophomore class will be pivotal.”

The backcourt got some much-needed depth in Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo. Cremo averaged 17.8 points per game last season and can provide stability for Villanova.

The Wildcats’ freshmen class is among the best in the country and highlighted by Jahvon Quiverly, who could serve as the heir apparent to Brunson in the backcourt. Quiverly made the McDonald’s All-American team after boasting averages of 18.5 PPG and 5.8 APG as a senior for Hudson Catholic (N.J.) last season. Quiverly’s progression in learning Villanova’s system could make the difference in not missing a beat.

A player who could also emerge in the loaded pool of underclassmen is freshman forward Saddiq Bey. Bey’s ability to move well without the basketball serves as one of many facets of mastering Wright’s offense. Paschall believes Bey can make an impact off the bench if given time.

“A guy who is going to surprise a lot of people this year is Saddiq Bey. He is very physical, rebounds well and plays defense,” Paschall said.

Villanova’s path to winning back-to-back championships will not be easy as the non-conference slate features games against NCAA Tournament teams from last season, such as Michigan and Kansas, to go along with its traditional Big Five opponents in Temple, LaSalle, Pennsylvania and Saint Joseph’s.