Despite losing four starters (including three NBA first-round draft picks) after winning the 2017-18 National Championship. Villanova comes into the 2018-19 season as a top-10 team (currently ranked 8th in the country) and the program picked to finish on top of the Big East conference. Once again, another bountiful season is expected from arguably the country’s most consistent winning program.
Under Jay Wright, Villanova Wildcats Still Expected to Finish on Top
It’s really just a testament to the culture instilled under the auspices of Villanova head coach Jay Wright.
He wins, he gets his players, and he connects with his fans. It’s a winning culture any recruit would love to be a part of.
At Villanova, expectations don’t change. No matter the loss of essential personnel.
So far the Villanova Wildcats are 2-0 on the young season and are humming along as we all expected. Now granted they have not been challenged yet and were expected to steamroll it’s first two opponents, Morgan State, and Quinnipiac.
And that they have done by winning both games by a combined 56 points.
First Big Test
The Wildcats, however, will get tested when they host the Michigan Wolverines on Wednesday as part of the annual Gavitt Games (which pits matchups between Big East and Big Ten teams), in what will be a rematch of the 2018 National Championship.
Wright knows the pulse of his team as good as any coach in the country. His ability to compartmentalize things and get his team to know what the stakes are is what separates himself from other coaches. He never gets too high or too low and the team responds to his stoic calmness.
Just a reminder, Wright and the Wildcats lost the services of Jalen Brunson (consensus national player of the year), Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo (hero of the title game and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player), and Omari Spellman.
For any other coach, losing that much star power would be a significant setback. But with the winning culture, Wright has established, everyone assumes the winning will continue and everybody would be correct in that assumption.
Despite the major loss of personnel, Wright can still rely on two grizzled vets in senior guard Phil Booth and senior forward Eric Paschall. So far they have been doing the heavy lifting, as they are the top two scorers on an otherwise young team.
Booth leads the team in scoring (20 points per game), assists (4.5 assists per game) and steals (1.5 steals per game), while playing 30 minutes per game— more than 7 minutes more than the next closest player.
Meanwhile, Paschall is second on the team in scoring, as he chips in 18.5 points to go along with a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game.
These two vets are clearly the heart and soul of the club, as they are basically the only two Wildcat players who have received significant minutes in the last couple of seasons. That said, Wright does have some major talent he can turn to.
There is certainly a lot of youth on this team, as six of the other seven players averaging at least 10 minutes per game are all either freshmen or sophomores. Graduate transfer Joe Cremo (from Albany) has been playing an important role too, as he averages 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in 21.5 minutes per game.
Among the best of the underclassmen have been freshman forward Saddiq Bey, who is third on the team in scoring with 12 points and 5 rebounds per game. Sophomore guard Collin Gillespie made some major strides last year while backing up Brunson, and is the fourth Wildcat averaging double figures in scoring (he chips in 11 points to go along with 3.5 assists per game).
And look for stud freshman guard Jahvon Quinerly to break out shortly. The former 5-star recruit is still finding his footing, as he is averaging just 3 points in 16.5 minutes per game. It’s only a matter of time before he starts to assert himself and makes a major impact.
It’s been a while since Villanova has been a predominantly inexperienced team, but when you factor in the senior leadership of Booth and Paschall coupled with the youthful exuberance of some very talented underclassmen, you get a sense of why Villanova is expected to compete for another deep run in the NCAA Tournament come March.
What Lies Ahead
Granted, Villanova may not have the experience as other Final Four hopefuls or superior talent (see Duke), you can never count out Wright’s club. He gets the most out of his team every year and this year will be no different.
When it is all said and done— experienced or not— Villanova will remain in the mix until the end. Wright always his teams playing their best at the end of the year.
It’s just what he does and expect it to be a trend that won’t go away anytime soon.
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