You know what's better than your team winning a national championship? Knowing that your team could win another one next year. Don't get me wrong, the contributions of Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu can't possibly be replicated. Their Senior leadership and presence on the court were unique to their team and that season, and for that they'll always be remembered. But next year's team has the potential to achieve similar results in a somewhat different way. Next year's Villanova Wildcats will be much more experienced, much more athletic, and hopefully just as disciplined.
So now that the season is officially over, we can start the debate of who exactly is going to step into the vacant starting spots. There will be at least two, maybe more if the NBA comes calling for Josh Hart. But for now, let's assume that they'll be back for a chance of being back to back champions. With that said, let's go position by position and see who fits where.
Last Season: Jalen Brunson
Candidates: Phil Booth, Jalen Brunson
I'm going to go ahead and call this one for Brunson for two reasons. First, he's already spent a year in the starting role. Sure, some games he spent more time on the bench with Arch running the point when they needed a bigger lineup. But if you look at Brunson's improvement in shot selection, turnovers, and offensive rating over the season, it's clear he's ready to step into Arch's shoes as the floor general for this team. Based on his track record in Illinois and on Team USA, he's ready to be a leader when called upon. Worst case scenario is that some of those freshman tendencies to drive a little recklessly don't go away and there aren't any improvements on defensive positioning. But the best case scenario is that Villanova gets the point guard equivalent of Joe Montana and Steve Young, that's how good this kid can be.
The second reason is that Phil Booth, while quiet most of the season, showed in the championship game what he showed us his freshman year: he's a scorer. Sure, he can handle the ball and create for others when needed, but he's so much better when he's in position to be a combo/scoring guard. He can create shots for himself, dribble penetrate, and more than holds his own on defense. Booth is going to se PLENTY of playing time next season, it just won't be starting at the point.
Last Season: Ryan Arcidiacono
Candidates: Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Kris Jenkins
Due to the lost season and seniority, let's rule out Divincenzo, who really plays like more of a small 3 than a 2. That gives us arguably the two biggest reasons Villanova won the Championship. The guy that made the most shots, and the guy that made THE shot. We already talked about everything Booth can bring to the table, so let's take a look at BIG SMOOOOTH.
Jenkins is a mismatch for almost any defender you put on him. If he's got a guard on him, he can bring them inside and back them down. If you put a big man on him, he'll lurk around the perimeter for kick-out 3's. And even if you do get a good matchup on him, you still have to deal with the dreaded head-fake. Jenkins body doesn't look like a shooting guard, but his shot sure does. On defense he'd be challenged by versatile scoring guards, but he showed enough improvement this season for me to think that he can hold his own if he has a help defense behind him.
This one is a tough call, but I think the edge goes to Jenkins. He'll be a senior, most likely a captain, and he's the team's best shooter. In addition, with only two true ball handlers on the team, Jay isn't going to have the luxury of putting two on the court at the same time as often as he did last season. That being said, Booth finished this year with the 5th best MPG and Min% on the team, making him a starter in all but the opening tip. I'd expect him to serve a similar role with more minutes next season.
Last Season: Josh Hart
Candidates: Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo, Josh Hart, Eric Paschall
This is Josh Hart's job if/when he returns to the team. I love all the other guys and what they bring to the table, but Hart will be THE GUY next year, much like he was this season. But what if Hart gets a chance at being a first round pick in the NBA draft? That's a tough thing to pass on, even if all of Nova Nation would love for him to return for his senior season. So just to cover all the bases, let's take a look at who could replace him at the three.
Donte DiVincenzo had his first season on campus cut short with a broken foot, and ended up being a medical red shirt. In his second season with the wildcats, we can expect him to bring the same energy and drive he showed in his first 8 games. He's a terrific rebounder with an outside shot and the ability to drive and finish in the paint. Sound like someone we currently have at the 3?
Mikal Bridges became the team's defensive stopper off the bench during their championship run, especially when it came to clamping down on the star player for the opposing team. But it wasn't just on defense where Bridges made his presence felt. He finished the year with the second best Offensive Rating (128.1) of any player in the Big East, and the 3rd best 2pt% (71.6%) in the entire country. If he's not on the court for the tip, he's going to have a really good shot at winning the Big East 6th Man of the Year.
Eric Paschall may be one of the more anticipated new faces next season, even though he's been with the team throughout their championship run. Sitting out last season after transferring from Fordham as the A-10 Rookie of the Year, he often played the role of the star player on the scout team in practices. Paschall is a scoring guard in a linebacker's body, and can play multiple positions on offense and defense. He should be a big contributor to next seasons team.
Last Season: Kris Jenkins
Candidates: Mikal Bridges, Tim Delaney, Dylan Painter, Eric Paschall, Darryl Reynolds, Omari Spellman
Remember last season when we were worried about depth in the front court? Not so much next season, so let's start thinning the herd a bit. Painter plays more like a 5 and like most big men (including Daniel Ochefu) they usually need a season under their belts before they can start making serious contributions in a starting role. I'm also going to rule out Delaney after coming off two major hip surgeries. He'll have a step on the true freshman having been in the system for a full year, but I don't think it's enough to get him into a starting role.
I'm also going to eliminate Darryl Reynolds from this spot as a starter. Reynolds made tremendous strides last season, and really showcased his abilities during the 3 game stretch when Ochefu was out with a concussion. For that reason I think he's much more likely to be considered at the 5 than the 4. He'll see plenty of playing time in both spots I'm sure, but I just don't think he starts at the 4 next season.
Now it gets tougher, and the next cut goes to Omari Spellman. The incoming freshman sustained an injury during his senior season. It wasn't anything major, but it was enough to keep him off the court and on the couch where he packed on a few pounds. The fact that he's coming into a new system, will have to do some serious conditioning, and adjust to the pace and demands on a big man at the college level might be too much to be expected for him to take on before the first game of the season. Spellman will be an impact role player next year, but not a starter.
So here we have two players with similar skill sets that would both be major contributors if given the chance. They both have range from deep, they both have speed and play great defense, and they're both only going to be sophomores. It's a good problem to have. I'm giving the edge to Paschal here for two reasons. First, while Bridges certainly has the length to defend the four, his lack of size got him into foul trouble when he was backed down on the block a few times last season. Second, Paschal has the speed and strength to create his own shots, where Bridges was often benefiting from positioning himself for kick outs or rebounds. Plus, I think Jay likes the energy, especially defensively, that Bridges brings off the bench. Both of these guys will be major contributors next year, but I think Paschal gets the start.
Last Season: Daniel Ochefu
Candidates: Tim Delaney, Dylan Painter, Darryl Reynolds, Omari Spellman
If Jay Wright thought his team was young with new starters last season, well that's going to be even more true this season when it comes to the big men. The wildcats only have three returning starters (two if Hart goes to the draft), and only four upperclassmen in Booth, Hart, Jenkins, and Reynolds (again, Hart could go pro). So I'm not going to keep you in suspense for this one, Darryl Reynolds will be Villanova's starting Center next season. At least to start.
Tim Delaney and Dylan Painter will definitely get some playing time in the post, but Omari Spellman will be the guy gunning for Reynolds spot. Because Spellman will be coming to campus overweight and inexperienced, the team will need Reynolds to go from student to teacher now that he'll have 3 guys to work with down low in practice. That leadership will earn Reynolds his starting spot at the beginning of the season, but it's not unheard of for Jay to shake up the starting lineup mid-season if someone goes out and earns it. Spellman has the talent and skillset to do that, but he'll have to work for it.
2016-17 Starting Five: With Hart
Point Guard: Jalen Brunson
Shooting Guard: Kris Jenkins
Small Forward: Josh Hart
Power Forward: Eric Paschal
Center: Darryl Reynolds
6th Man: Phil Booth / Mikal Bridges
Now that's a starting lineup I can get behind. You've got the ability to space the court with 4 perimeter threats, or attack the paint with 5 guys that can finish at the rim. Then you have a proven combo scorer and a lock down defender coming off the bench, along with great depth in the front court. I don't think anyone would be surprised to see Villanova capture a 4th straight Big East title with this lineup.
2016-17 Starting Five: Without Hart
Point Guard: Jalen Brunson
Shooting Guard: Phil Booth
Small Forward: Eric Paschal
Power Forward: Kris Jenkins
Center: Darryl Reynolds
6th Man: Mikal Bridges
If Josh Hart leaves for the pros, it'd be a tough loss because you can't replace him. He's a unique, elite talent on both ends of the court. The silver lining is that the wing position is the deepest in terms of quality on this team right now. Paschal moves up to the small forward as he's now the best fit for that role. Jenkins shifts back to the power forward where he started last season in a break out year. Phil Booth steps into the starting role and will take on a larger portion of the offense. Bridges now becomes the odds on favorite for Big East 6th Man of the Year.
That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it... that is until about June when I'm sure everything will change and I'll realize how wrong I was. Or not, who knows, it's April! That being said, let's hear from you Nova Nation. Leave your starting 5 in the comments below, and as always, thanks for reading!