"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Villanova Preview

Villanova Wildcats
January 4, fiserv.forum; February 12, Finneran Pavilion, Philadelphia, PA

Coach: Jay Wright (448-175 at Villanova, 570-260 overall)
3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 9.7
3-Year kenpom Average: 11.0
2019-20 T-Rank Projection: 19

Projected Starters: PG Colin Gillespie (6'3" Jr), SG Bryan Antoine (6'5" Fr), SF Jermaine Samuels (6'7" Jr), PF Saddiq Bey (6'8" So), C Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (6'9" Fr)

Villanova started the season in uncharacteristic fashion, losing more non-conference games (4) than they had in the past five seasons combined (3). Jay Wright juggled the lineup, finding more success with additional minutes for Samuels and Bey. That led to an 11-1 start to Big East play before a late-season lull saw them dropping 4 of their last 6 games. Even still, they won the Big East regular season outright and followed it up with a Big East tournament title. The Wildcats fell in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but you know you have a special program when a "down year" involves winning the double-championship in your league.

'Nova lost their two best players in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, but have a star-studded recruiting class to replace them along with a cadre of experienced juniors and sophomores that will have them staying in the mix for Big East titles. Gillespie, Samuels, and Bey were all highly efficient role-players that will need to step up and be more productive in expanded roles. Antoine is a shot-maker and the biggest star of the recruiting class, but his health is a question. They hope to have him to start the season, but he could be out until the start of conference play. If he's not around, more will be expected of another 5-star recruit, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who is expected to start up front ahead of reliable veteran Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Jay Wright has a young but talented bench, with Cole Swider and Eric Dixon providing front court depth. Another name to watch is Justin Moore. He isn't as flashy as Antoine, but is a hard-nosed guard that could earn minutes early if Antoine isn't ready to go. If some of the returning guys show they can score, a tougher, defense-first guy may be a welcome addition.

Anyone familiar with the Big East has to be familiar with Villanova. Offensively, they are going to spread the floor with a 5-out offense while raining threes like a meteor shower. And the same long, athletic, lethally accurate athletic mismatches are going to be tough, steadfast defenders that get a hand up on every shot and defend without fouling. The Wildcats have slowed their pace in recent years, particularly on the offensive end, where they have been in the bottom third of tempo each of the past 4 years. This is a slow-down club that plays beautiful offense and suffocating defense.

This Villanova team looks like they will be absolute world-beaters...in 2020-21. While they have the talent to win the Big East this year, they don't have anyone that has proven they can shoulder the load for a contender. If Bey or Gillespie can become a First Team Big East player, if Antoine can be a go-to scorer, if all the newcomers are ready to contribute on both ends, if all those things come together, maybe they can reach their peak this year, but it feels unlikely. There will be bumps along the road and this team just looks a little too young to run over the league this year. We saw that even in a down year, Villanova can win Big East titles. That could be the case this year, but while they look like a top-3 team, I don't think they're the prohibitive favorite so many are making them out to be.

Marquette Memory: Marquette was ranked #8 in the country and atop the Big East when Dominic James went down against UConn. They lost that game and slumped to a 4-game losing streak heading into the Big East Tournament. Things started well enough as Buzz Williams' team drilled St. John's, but then they faced Villanova in the quarterfinals. After falling behind 47-31 at the half, a furious second-half rally allowed Lazar Hayward to hit a three with 1:36 to play that put Marquette ahead 75-74, their first lead since it was 3-2. Two squandered offensive possessions later and Villanova got the ball back with no timeouts and 14 seconds to play. The Wildcats played around the perimeter before Reggie Redding drove the lane with time running down. Jerel McNeal left his man, Reynolds threaded the needle to Dwayne Anderson, and a layup at the buzzer ended Marquette's upset bid. Just one more disappointing loss in a season that saw Final Four aspirations evaporate in the final month of the season.

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