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2018-19 Villanova Wildcats Season Preview

How will the Wildcats wear the heavy crown of expectation?

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

VILLANOVA WILDCATS SEASON PREVIEW

Coach

Leading the Wildcats to two national championship titles in three years, the discussions concerning coach Jay Wright have elevated from a strong BIG EAST coach to one of the college basketball’s all-time finest. Recently tapped as an assistant coach for the 2019-20 USA Basketball men’s national team, joining the likes of NBA head coaches including Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, Wright’s national status has never been more prominent.

With his four top-scorers from the acclaimed 2017-18 season gone to the professional route, Wright now faces a pivotal moment in his coaching system. Between Villanova’s 2016 and 2018 national titles, Wright was able to rely on the veteran experience of consistent-performer players. Now, with the onset of young talent, all eyes will be scrutinizing Wright’s skills at sustainable player development.


2017-18 Season at a Glance

Departures (2017-18 Stats)

  • Jalen Brunson (18.9 PPG, 3.1 RPG)
  • Mikal Bridges (17.7 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
  • Donte DiVincenzo (13.4 PPG, 4.8 RPG)
  • Omari Spellman (10.9 PPG, 8.0 RPG)

Returnees (2017-18 Stats)

  • Eric Paschall (10.6 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
  • Phil Booth (10.0 PPG, 3.2 RPG)
  • Collin Gillespie (4.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG)
  • Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (3.1 PPG, 2.4 RPG)
  • Jermaine Samuels (1.1 PPG, 1.2 RPG)

Newcomers

  • Jahvon Quinerly (5-star recruit from Hackensack, N.J.; Hudson Catholic High School)
  • Cole Swider (4-star recruit from Providence, R.I.; St. Andrew’s School)
  • Saddiq Bey (4-star recruit from Largo, M.D.; Sidwell Friends School)
  • Brandon Slater (4-star recruit from Centreville, Va.; Paul VI High School)
  • Joe Cremo (Transfer student from the University of Albany; 17.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG)

What Happened Last Year

NCAA Basketball: Final Four Championship Game-Michigan vs Villanova Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Defeating Providence in overtime to win the BIG EAST Tournament, and then moving on to cap the year with a National Championship victory over Michigan... to put it lightly, a lot happened last season for the Villanova Wildcats.

The triumphant end-of-season success was not immediately in sight for ‘Nova nearing last March. Despite holding an undefeated non-conference record, the Wildcats began revealing select weaknesses during BIG EAST conference play. In fact, three of the team’s four total losses occurred in February, and Xavier ultimately bested Villanova as BIG EAST regular season champions.

Not to be dissuaded by the losses, and fueled by coach Wright’s persistent “#ATTITUDE” mantra, ‘Nova rallied around its high-caliber talent to make waves well into the post-season.


Key Nonconference Matchups

  • University of Michigan (Villanova, Pa.; November 14)
  • Advocare Invitational (Orlando, Fla.; November 17-25)
  • University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kan.; December 15)

Reasons for Optimism

Talented Young Blood

The Wildcats may have lost a large chunk of their dependable, veteran players, but as the old adage goes—out with the old, in with the starred recruits.

Dominating early conversations is incoming freshman Jahvon Quinerly. Quinerly, initially making headlines with his high-profile de-commit from Arizona, is a 5-star talent looking to solidify Villanova’s point guard needs. A McDonald’s All-American, Quinerly is already racking up accolades by being named the BIG EAST’s Co-Preseason Freshman of the Year.

Additionally, Albany transfer Joe Cremo brings a vital scoring presence to the Wildcats. A heavily-sought transfer, Cremo topped Albany’s shooting efforts by averaging 17.8 points—even more significantly, in his last year at Albany, Cremo shot an impressive 45.8% from the three-point line. For a ‘Nova offensive strategy that regularly (and successfully) utilizes three-pointers, Cremo is an ideal addition to the Wildcats’ scoring vision.

Legacy Leaders

During his tenure with Villanova, Jalen Brunson was heralded as the leadership force behind the Wildcats. Stepping in to fulfill the leadership gap left by Brunson’s ascension to the NBA are seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall.

Booth, a member of both recent Villanova national title teams, notably dropped 20 points off the bench in ‘Nova’s 2016 victory against UNC. While Booth may not have consistently repeated that same high-pressure scoring in seasons since (having suffered through knee injuries), he is widely held in high-leadership regard among his fellow teammates.

Eric Paschall, initially a transfer from Fordham, also exploded past expectations during March Madness. In Villanova’s latest Final Four appearance, Paschall dropped 24 points against Kansas.

If Villanova’s recent preseason scrimmage against UNC is any indication, both Booth and Paschall have decidedly vamped up their offensive impact. Booth put up a whopping 41 points (yes, 41) and Paschall dropped another 24 point game. Large point-volume shooting aside, Booth and Paschall provide the fundamental experience necessary to guide the younger Wildcats.


Prediction

Villanova’s fate is far from apocalyptic this season. Yes, they may visibly endure the requisite “growing pains” that accompany any team developing multiple levels of new talent. Realistically, the Wildcats are likely not going to enjoy another undefeated non-conference schedule. December 15’s away game at Kansas promises to be a well-timed litmus test for coach’s Wright ongoing player development.

Yet, even in the absence of now-storied players, Villanova maintains a majorly fresh-faced roster brimming with specialized skill and shooting prowess, that if cultivated, will remain a preeminent power in the BIG EAST and conferences beyond.