If you’re just getting up to speed here on this Friday afternoon, the Villanova Wildcats received some unfortunate news earlier. Their prized incoming freshman Omari Spellman, an athletic big man from Ohio, was ruled academically ineligible for the 2016-17 season.
The defending national champions had expected that Spellman, a five-star recruit and the top player in his home state, would become a pivotal piece to their rotation and their attempt at defending the championship they dramatically won last April against the North Carolina Tar Heels in Houston. Many were waiting to be bedazzled and wowed by the combo of Spellman and former super freshman-turned sophomore Jalen Brunson that would slice and dice with a formidable pick-and-roll, but they will have to wait a little bit longer until 2017 assuming that Brunson sticks around in the Philly area and doesn’t depart for the NBA next summer.
With Spellman now out of the plans for Jay Wright and the ‘Cats, the defending champs must now roll with the punches. In many ways, this will impact the team and the conference that they play in. Here are just a few ways that Spellman’s ineligibility impacts Villanova and the Big East Conference.
Villanova will now REALLY be playing small ball
Without the likes of Omari Spellman in the lineup, the ‘Cats aren’t exactly trotting out towering players in their rotations. They do have 6’10 center Dylan Painter at their disposal and like Spellman is a freshman, but he is the only player they have that is above 6’8”. Of course, depending on where you look, that was likely to be the case anyway with Spellman checking in between 6’8 and 6’9.
However, a greater importance is now ushered in on Painter to play up to par.
Lineups that Jay Wright will be crafting are likely to rely heavily on guards and wings. It’s entirely possible that we see a lineup featuring Brunson, Josh Hart, Phil Booth, title game hero Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds out there with Jenkins and Reynolds with the tallest player on the floor being the 6’8 Reynolds. Additionally, Mikal Bridges and Fordham transfer Eric Paschall will also be weaved into their rotations as well and Bridges and Paschall are each standing in at 6’7. Factor in redshirt freshman Tim Delaney, who stands at 6’8, and you have a roster that will be playing an awful lot of small ball this year.
It certainly helped them win a championship in the 2015-16 season, but will they be able to repeat that success? Their big man Ochefu was no slouch of course and even while he wasn’t at 100 percent during the NCAA Tournament, he still found ways to make an impact while playing between 26-32 minutes per game.
There’s talent aplenty, and there’s no reason to doubt the back-to-back-to-back Big East regular season champions or their head coach at this point. However, they will definitely have their work cut out for them with a player of the caliber and prospect of Spellman out of their plans now.
The Wildcats are probably still the favorites in the Big East, but some matchup problems could loom
Although they will not have Spellman in the lineup, they need not fear when it comes to most of the matchups against the teams set to challenge them in the Big East. While they could run into some trouble against St. John’s’ pair of bigs -- Kassoum Yakwe and Yankuba Sima -- as well as Georgetown’s dynamic big man Jessie Govan, both the Red Storm and the Hoyas are works-in-progress. The Johnnies have a new semblance of talent and could surprise but are still likely a year or so away from doing real damage. The Hoyas meanwhile are not so strong defensively and don’t have the scoring ammo to keep up with Villanova’s potent and prodigious lineups. If Marquette’s Luke Fischer improves again this season, he too could make an impact down low against ‘Nova’s lack of size.
Then there is the top tier of the Big East with Xavier, Butler, Creighton and Seton Hall. The Musketeers figure to be one of the biggest threats towards ‘Nova’s quest for a four-peat. From a pure height perspective the Wildcats and Musketeers match up similarly. X has one lone big man in Sean O’Mara who hasn’t gotten significant burn in his first two years in Cincinnati. Elsewhere there’s freshman Tyrique Jones and transfer RaShid Gaston but both Jones and Gaston check in at 6’8. Sound familiar? It probably should. If X had hung on to Jalen Reynolds then they could present a nightmarish problem for Villanova, but Reynolds decided to turn pro and forgo his final year of eligibility. With James Farr’s graduation, X will be without their two 6’10 forces down low from a year ago.
This could pay dividends for Villanova during their matchups this season.
Creighton will have Justin Patton at their disposal after a redshirt season in his first year on campus. Patton is a former five-star recruit and stands in at 6’11, so when Villanova plays them, Patton could find himself making an impact. Creighton’s other bigs however haven’t quite done much damage inside over the years and defensively are a bit behind. The two teams that intrigue the most are Butler and Seton Hall. The Bulldogs will have top-flight 2016 center Joey Brunk coming into the fold and if Brunk plays up to par, the Bulldogs could give the Wildcats some fits down low. And Seton Hall could be divisive as well. The Pirates have Angel Delgado and defensive ace Ismael Sanogo, both of whom have developed into stout players in their own right. While Seton Hall no longer has talented guard Isaiah Whitehead, Kevin Willard’s team could still be a thorn in ‘Nova’s side this coming season without Spellman in the lineup.
The Big East Freshman of the Year race is now totally wide open
So this is probably the biggest impact of them all. The prohibitive favorite for the 2016-17 Big East Freshman of the Year was likely to be Spellman.
Now? It’s completely up for grabs.
There are quite a few names around the conference who could find their way to scoop up the award come March. Will Butler’s Joey Brunk nab it? How about any of their other talented freshmen? Then you could look over to Georgetown and Jagan Mosely has an opportunity if he makes a big impact for the Hoyas. Elsewhere, the extremely talented Markus Howard or Sam Hauser of Marquette could give the Golden Eagles two straight Big East Freshmen of the Year, this after Henry Ellenson ran away with the award after a brilliant campaign last season in Milwaukee. The aforementioned Tyrique Jones of Xavier could take it, and so could his teammate Quentin Goodin.
Then there’s also prized combo guard Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s. Ponds was probably the second-most celebrated Big East rookie coming into the year behind Spellman and with him out of the picture, is he now the odds-on choice to win the award? Time will certainly tell, but he could be a relatively convenient choice to tab for the prize in the preseason period.
What do you think? Is there anything we missed? Let’s talk. Feel free to tweet at us at @becb_sbn or discuss in the comments below about what impact Spellman’s loss will have on Villanova and the Big East Conference.