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2017-18 Big East Season Preview: Villanova Wildcats

The Big East Champions are back in a big way.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs Villanova Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Villanova Wildcats Season Preview

2017-18 PreSeason KenPom Ranking

1


Head Coach

Jay Wright (386-161 at Villanova, since March 2001 hire. 508-246 career overall)

Entering his 16th year as Villanova's head coach, Jay Wright appears to perfected his "attitude"-based methodology into a sustaining, replicable system for each season. Specifically, in the past five years, Wright has begun asserting his dominance in an indisputable way: setting school records. Leading the 2016-17 senior class as the winningest in school history (123 wins, 16 losses), Wright has doubled-down on cultivating consistent, quality performance from the Wildcats and shows no signs of weakening that foundation.


Last Season At a Glance

Finishing the 2016-17 season 32-4 overall, and 15-3 in Big East action, Villanova categorically played with peak precision and intensity. Starting the season with a 14-game winning streak, 'Nova's rare losses were served later in their schedule. Crowned Big East regular season champions for the fourth consecutive year, the Wildcats also soundly beat Creighton to dub themselves as the winners of the Big East Tournament.

Beyond their Big East accolades, Villanova ultimately failed to repeat their prior year's National Championship success in the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Falling to Wisconsin in the second weekend of March Madness, 'Nova slid into the familiar woes of post-season underachievement.


Key Returnees

Player Year 2016 Stats/Notes
Jalen Brunson Jr. 14.7 PPG, 54.1 FG%, 2.6 RPG, 148 Assists, Preseason Big East Player of the Year
Mikal Bridges RS Jr. 9.8 PPG, 54.9 FG%, 4.6 RPG, 60 Steals, 2016-17 Co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year
Donte DiVincenzo So. 8.8 PPG, 46.6 FG%, 3.8 RPG, 33 Steals, 2016-17 Big East All-Freshman Team Selection
Eric Paschall Jr. 7.2 PPG, 51.3 FG%, 3.8 RPG, 18 Blocks, Made 8 Starts in 2016-17, Appeared in 36 Games
Phil Booth RS Jr. 5.7 PPG, 26.3 FG%, 1.7 RPG, Missed Most of 2016-17 with Tendinitis

Departures

Player Departure Reason 2016 Stats/Notes
Josh Hart Graduation 18.7 PPG, 51 FG%, 6.4 RPG, Big East Player of the Year
Kris Jenkins Graduation 13.1 PPG, 38.4 FG%, 4.1 RPG, 2016 NCAA Championship Hero
Darryl Reynolds Graduation 4.5 PPG, 68.8 FG%, 5.4 RPG, Made 37 Career Starts

Additions

Player 247Sports/ESPN Rankings/Notes
Omari Spellman 5-Star, 18th Ovr, 5th Pos (ESPN Rank)
Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree 4-Star, 23rd Pos (247 Rank)
Collin Gillespie 3-Star, 54th Pos (247 Rank)
Jermaine Samuels 4-Star, 9th Pos (247 Rank)

Reasons to Get Hype

Jalen Brunson

If it feels like everyone is talking about Jalen Brunson, it's because they are. Stepping into the leadership role left by Josh Hart's graduation, Brunson is poised to further elevate his talented game into next levels of eliteness. The rising junior has been showered with awards this preseason: Named Big East's Preseason Player of the Year, voted onto the Associated Press's preseason All-American Team, and placed on the watch list for the Bob Cousy Award.

The Ascension of Donte DiVincenzo

Arguing that Donte DiVincenzo's explosive first season with the Wildcats was a surprise would overlook his reputation as being the "Michael Jordan of Delaware." Though DiVincenzo only officially started one game, DiVincenzo was a crucial component of 'Nova's offense in the 2016-17 season. With Phil Booth benched for his knee injury, DiVincenzo assumed responsibility on the court with fervor. Memorably, DiVincenzo's tip-in for Villanova's last-second victory over UVA cemented his status as a collected player in tense situations.

Depth, Depth, Depth

The 2017-18 Villanova Wildcats are not holding back from any angle. Complementing Brunson in the backcourt, 6'7 Mikal Bridges' combination of wingspan and agility give Bridges a biting speed that has caught NBA-level attention. Holding the second-highest field goal percentage of last season (54.9%), Bridges also lead the Wildcats in steals (60) and blocks (32).

The most long-awaited addition to the Wildcats' strategy, though? Omari Spellman. The 6'9, five-star recruit completed his NCAA-mandated academic redshirt season, and can finally provide 'Nova with a stronghold defensive presence under the bucket.

Reasons for Concern

Seton Hall University

No matter how polished Villanova may look, there is always a Seton Hall game to bring Jay Wright's clinical structure to a grinding, gritty game. The Pirates have developed a deserved reputation for challenging 'Nova with the utmost energy, and Seton Hall's past performances at the Big East Tournament perfectly encapsulate that vigor. In 2016, Seton Hall edged out Villanova 69-67 to win the Big East Championship; in 2017, Villanova barely escaped Seton Hall, 55-53, in the semi-finals.

This season, Seton Hall's squad remains stacked with seniors familiar with locking down Villanova. Khadeen Carrington , Desi Rodriguez, and Angel Delgado lead the Pirates with seasoned maturity and experience—in contrast, Villanova's starting line-up will likely contain zero seniors.

Phil Booth's Wildcard Factor

Debuting as an offensively commanding player his freshman year (56.3 FG%, 48.5 3FG%), Phil Booth's introductory time with Villanova oozed spark. Though Booth pivoted his focus on strengthening defense his sophomore year, Booth's magnetic shooting remained a prevalent "go-to" in tight situations; most notably, Booth dropped 20 points to help secure Villanova's NCAA Championship win over UNC.

The 2016-17 season promised an even more versatile Booth, but Booth managed to only play in the first three games. Having undergone surgery in his left knee after 'Nova's national title win, Booth's knee pain and inflammation persisted into the season, and prevented him from playing his junior year. Now a redshirt junior, Booth has been cleared for play, but the question of his impact after a year of injury remains.


Best Case Scenario

In a word: March. In two words: Final Four. Undoubtedly, Villanova has all the resources to maintain a team that not only can repeat their victories with the Big East Tournament, but can sustain a deep-run in the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Case Scenario

Under realistic harsh scrutiny, the "worst case" scenario for Villanova would not be overwhelmingly negative. In their non-conference schedule, the possible Battle 4 Atlantis final game against highly-ranked Arizona could result in an early loss. In Big East play, the mid-February game against Butler, followed by two consecutive away games at Providence and Marquette, could also be intensive. And, of course, the possibility of another unfulfilled March postseason looms.

Even so, for all the losses that may occur, there will always be this: