The Villanova Wildcats are coming off the program’s third national title and second in three years. Head coach Jay Wright has propelled the Big East program into college basketball’s blueblood conversation with a mix of top-notch recruits who have bought into the system. Last season, Villanova went undefeated in their non-conference slate and won the challenging Battle for Atlantis. The Wildcats were 19-4 in the tough Big East and ended up second in the regular season to Xavier.
Nova asserted their dominance in the Big East tourney and took the NCAA tournament by storm. The emergence of tourney sensation Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman along with stalwarts Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges spurred them to a title over Michigan. Despite some key losses to graduation and the NBA draft, Villanova added some big pieces to keep them in the Def Pen top 10. The expectations are high for the Wildcats.
Phil Booth (10 PPG, .38 3P%) and Eric Paschall (10.6 PPG 5.3 RPG) were both big contributors to the national title team last season. Both add experience and look to expand on their roles. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree looks to make a sophomore leap as he showed promise last season. He stepped in for Omari Spellman in the East regional against Texas Tech and provided four points and seven rebounds.
Villanova has to replace the production of three first-round draft picks and national player of the year, Jalen Brunson (18.9, 40% 3P) who was a second rounder. Mikal Bridges (17.7 PPG, 43.5% 3P), the 10th pick of the NBA draft along with Brunson are veterans that will be missed. Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman’s youth and scoring punch will be difficult to replace as well.
Jay Wright landed arguably the most sought-after graduate transfer in Joe Cremo from Albany. Cremo, averaged 17.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists this past season and shot 46 percent from 3-point range. A five-star recruit, Jahvon Quinerly will be able to help man the backcourt with Cremo and Phil Booth. Quinerly was originally an Arizona commitment but decommitted when the college basketball FBI scandal broke. He was potentially connected to Arizona assistant coach, Book Richardson, who was embroiled in the corruption. Cole Swider, Brandon Slater and late addition Saddiq Bey look to play key minutes for Nova.
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Projected Starting Lineup
Villanova will be one of the more interesting top 10 teams due to integrating some new pieces, along with Paschall and Booth. Overall, the Big East is going to be down, with Marquette, St. Johns, Butler and Xavier being the teams that will challenge Nova. Expect Nova to have some growing pains with a very young bench. If the bench can grow and give considerable contributions, they are a Sweet 16 team with potential for more.
Non-conference-wise, Nova will have a tough time in a rematch of the national championship game against a stout Michigan team. The Wildcats travel to Phog Allen to play Kansas which will also be a difficult test. Expect Villanova to handle the rigors of conference play fairly well, despite having a young team. They’ll certainly stumble against to a few teams that from a talent standpoint are head an shoulders above, due to youth. Games at an improved St. Johns team with Mustafa Heron and Shamorie Ponds and a Markus Howard led Marquette team look to be difficult late-season tests.