Villanova Basketball is back! The lines were long and spirits were high as fans were excited to get a look at the 2015-16 Wildcats. I was happy to take in the day with friend and fellow contributor @vuwildcat07 from seats we probably won't get as the season gets started. As we watched the three 10-minute games unfold, we got a good look at each player that will contribute this season.
Team Blue featured Arcidiacono, DiVincenzo, Jenkins, Bridges, and Reynolds. Team White had Brunson, Booth, Hart, Paschall, and Ochefu. Team White won all three games, although Jay kept resetting each game score to 60-60 at the 1 minute mark. Old faces showed off some new tricks, and new players certainly lived up to the hype. Yes, it was only a scrimmage, but there were some interesting points to take away from both the team as a whole and the individual players.
What we learned about the team
They're still shooting 3's, but giving up more too
The philosophy of "shoot 'em up, sleep in the streets" is still alive and well on the Main Line. This season, more than half the team is living by that mantra. Arch, Hart, Booth, and Jenkins all showed they still have their perimeter stroke. New comers Brunson, DiVincenzo, and Paschall can all hit from behind the arc too, so expect another season of bombs away.
The troubling thing was the number of open shots they were getting. Granted, there were some guys getting more floor time today than they will all season, but the defense was lacking. Villanova lost 2 of its best perimeter defenders in Ennis and Hilliard, and JVP was a solid defender against stretch wings as well. To make up for those losses, you saw Bridges spending a lot of time guarding the 2, and Booth putting a lot more pressure on ball than he did last season. The exhibition games should tell us a lot more about how this team will play perimeter defense as a cohesive unit, but I'll need to see it before I believe it.
Ochefu will need to stay on the floor more
One of the main reasons the White Team was able to sweep all 3 games, was that none of the other Nova "bigs" could stop or get by Ochefu. While this is a great sign for the team when he's in the game, I fear it's a scary omen for when he's on the bench. Reynolds did show some flashes of brilliance on both ends of the court, and Bridges was disrupting passes left and right. But if Villanova finds itself needing to rely on them to make stops against a dominant big, we could be in trouble.
Get ready for some AMAZING guard play
The greatest strength of Villanova's teams in the Jay Wright era has been its guards. I don't want to jump to conclusions, but this group of guards might be Jay's best ever. While they won't match up to Foye, Lowry, and Scottie on an individual level, the chemistry on the court today was fantastic. And they weren't even all playing together! Court vision, great passes, screens, dribble drives, shot creation... it was all on display today.
Everyone had their moments. Arch and Brunson were terrific against each other, and I can't wait to see them play together. Hart and Booth have made significant steps on both sides of the court. Jenkins can still shoot lights out, but now added a shot fake (although it doesn't work when he does it for EVERY shot). Divincenzo had an amazing pass in traffic with the game on the line. And Paschall, let's just say I can't wait to see him next season, because he might have been the most complete player on both sides of the court today.
What we learned about the players
Arch was everything you wanted your Senior Captain to be today. He made clutch shots, he got others involved, and he lead both vocally and by example. You could tell he was pissed losing all three games, and that's what you want to see. But the best part of the day was watching him go at it with Brunson. Arch was not going to let a freshman out play him, and that drive lead to some great physical play on both sides of the ball. During down-time you saw each of them talking strategy with their respective teams, and I can't wait to see the kind of chemistry they'll have when they're working together. This is going to be a GREAT combo, and Arch is going to be a big part of the reason it works.
I don't know what Jay does with his bigs the summer after their junior year, but they all come back with a mid range jump shot. Will someone please tell him to not wait so long to get that going!?!? Ochefu was dominant in every aspect of the game. He had great timing and awareness while protecting the rim. He was quick, decisive, and agile with the ball in the paint. Then he started taking shots from a foot inside the arc... and hitting them. If that's what we can expect all season, get ready to see him on a couple national award lists and NBA scouting boards.
There isn't a player in the country that rebounds as impressively or aggressively as Josh Hart. Forget his ability to score from everywhere, his rebounding and court awareness is his calling card. But in case that's not enough for you, how about we throw in some clutch shooting, like his buzzer beater to send Game 3 to double OT.
Hart is going to be Nova's most versatile go to option this season. Can he rise to the challenge on offense and defense? We're a month away from finding out. SPOILER ALERT: Yes, he can.
Holy head fakes batman! I'm sure Jenkins didn't shot fake EVERY time he had the ball outside the arc, but it sure seemed that way. But even when defenders saw through his clever trickeration, he still hit shots over them from both inside and outside the arc. But we knew old-man-Jenkins had a sweet touch. What we wanted to see today was how well he could defend the 4. Enter Eric Paschall. Now Paschall isn't a four, but it didn't matter what position he played. No one was stopping him, especially not Jenkins. As for what this says about Jenkins' defense, I'll file today under incomplete. Bottom line is, today was an example of how much we're going to miss Pinkston on interior and perimeter defense this season.
Of all the players on the roster, Reynolds is the most likely to see a significant bump in playing time this season. The big question going into today is how he'd respond to the increased responsibility. The answer, pretty well. Defensively he did OK against Ochefu, although when he was just 1 on 1 he was clearly outmatched. On offense he did much better, getting into space and finding ways to open passing lanes for the guards to feed him the ball. Reynolds will be a work in progress this season, but he showed enough raw talent today to keep me optimistic about his growth.
Today was a glimpse at the future as we got to see the back court combination of Booth and Brunson. Bottom line, get excited about our killer B's. Booth had the intriguing challenge of facing a combination of Bridges and DiVincenzo, but was well up to the task. Booth showed excellent handle and ability to score off the drive or behind the arc. He did have 1 or 2 ill-advised drives where he ran into a wall of defenders, but he was usually able to kick-out or find the interior passing lane. Booth will have a much bigger role this season, and should see similar minutes and scoring expectations to Josh Hart's breakout season a year ago.
On a team whose biggest weakness will be front court depth and defense, Bridges is a welcomed bright spot. While he spent a large portion of the scrimmage matched on wings and guards, his interior presence was felt in a big way. Mainly, don't pass the ball within 5 feet of him, cause he'll stop it. I don't have official numbers, but I'm fairly certain he has a 20 foot wingspan. On offense, there's still room for improvement as he was often held in check by smaller defenders. He still needs to hit the weight room (and the PIT, and the SPIT, and the IK) to bulk up, but he's got the speed and awareness to be a contributor this season.
The hype is real people, Brunson's legit. Great handle, great vision, great shot... just great! Brunson isn't the athlete that some of this teammates are, but he has more control than anyone else on the court, with the exception of Arch. He's not going to blow by anyone, but he's effective at creating space and defensive indecision with his ball fakes and stutter steps. This, along with a deadly outside shot, make him as much of a dribble drive threat as anyone else on the team. But the most important take-away from today was that he has no problem taking the big shot or having the ball in his hands at the end of the game. I'm going to be dangerously over-confident when Nova's in close games this season because of this kid.
The latest addition to Jay's collection of players whose last names will baffle TV announcers may be the most intriguing player to watch this season. He's got a great touch from outside, but can also flat out run by people. Seriously, kid's got speed AND ups that you just don't see coming. But he also showed some indecisiveness and other classic freshman mistakes that he'll continue to work on as the season progresses. He'll probably see limited minutes as the 9th man in Jay's 8 man rotation, but I'm expecting big things in future seasons.
Is it bad that the player I'm most excited about won't play a game this season? First off, he has an amazing physical presence. Think Hilliard, but if he was a linebacker. Paschall's game looked even better. He hit from 3, he scored in the paint, he defended well, and he was vocal on both ends of the court. With another year in the system, he's going to make an instant impact in 2016.
Delaney was on hand Saturday, but didn't play as he prepares for hip surgery that will likely have him Red Shirt his first year on campus. There's still some questions as to if this is the same injury he dealt with in January, but until we have more information we can only wish him the best in his recovery. While Delaney likely wouldn't have seen a lot of playing time this season, his absence will be noticed as Villanova will spend another season without front court depth.
Overall, I'm feeling confident about this team as we head toward the exhibition games. We'll be looking for a more cohesive defense in those games, but that's hard to achieve when only half the team is on the court, facing the other half. Bottom line, Villanova Basketball is back, and win or lose, that's a good thing!
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