While Villanova might be deep in individual talent this upcoming season, it doesn’t matter much if those players can’t mesh together on both ends of the court. That meshing has been a strength of the Wildcats’ recent run of success. Over the last three seasons, Villanova has finished top-12 in both adjusted offense and adjusted defense, according to KenPom.com.
Still, a new season means new players and new roles, and the Wildcats will need to prove they can get it done on both sides of the floor before they worry about bigger goals.
Offensive Scouting Report
Preseason KenPom adjusted offense ranking: No. 2
Scoring has never been much of a Villanova problem, and that appears to be again the case entering the 2017-18 season. While the team loses key offensive presences in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, the Wildcats still bring back four of their top six scorers from a season ago and will add Omari Spellman, Phil Booth and a strong freshman class into the mix.
Hart and Jenkins combined to average about 29 points per game last season, but the improvements of Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Eric Paschall, and Donte DiVincenzo plus those aforementioned additions should more than make up for that. Villanova should hit last year’s scoring average of 77 points per game and might even push up towards to the low 80s.
The offense will surely have a different look than last year, though. Hart took nearly 100 shots more than any other player on the team last season, and someone needs to pick up those shots. Early indications are that Brunson will see part of that increase. It’s likely Jay Wright and the coaching staff will try to use him in similar ways they used to use Scottie Reynolds, as Brunson will be asked to create his shot off the dribble, while also playing off ball, as the Wildcats have many capable ball handlers in Booth, DiVincenzo, and freshman Colin Gillespie.
The other major change will be the addition of Spellman, who should be an early focal point of the offense. Spellman has interior moves and a long-range shot, and his ability to play a versatile style should allow the offense to give many different looks. Most specifically, by drawing his defender out from underneath the basket, Spellman should free up that space for other Wildcats to attack. This was something Villanova was unable to do last year with Darryl Reynolds and Dylan Painter.
If anyone is going to fill Hart’s style on offense, it will most likely be Bridges, who can slash to the basket, clean up the glass and hit shots from deep. He likely won’t hit Hart’s level of offensive production, but behind Brunson, he will probably get the most shots. DiVincenzo can also contribute in this role and style, as well.
But overall, the two main trends on offense shouldn’t be much of a surprise — balance and long-range shooting. The Wildcats right now probably go about seven or eight deep in terms of capable offensive contributors, and that number should only grow with more experience for the freshmen. Of those, the Wildcats probably have six guys that could start the season averaging 10 ppg or higher.
And the long-range shooting shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The Wildcats attempted 843 3-pointers and 959 a season before (albeit in four extra games). Somewhere in that range is likely again this season, as almost every player that hits the floor for Villanova should be able to shoot from deep. The Wildcats won’t live and die by the 3-pointer, but it will be a large part of their offense.
Defensive scouting report
Preseason KenPom adjusted offense ranking: No. 6
From the national championship year to last season, the defense fell off a bit. The loss of Daniel Ochefu and depth issues were a big part of that. While Villanova will have a lot of younger players in the mix, there’s a chance they could be a better defensive team overall in 2017-18.
Let’s start with what they lost. Hart was one of the team’s and conference’s best perimeter defenders and could guard many positions. Jenkins could body up with bigger players but was sometimes a liability against wings. Reynolds was a solid but unspectacular defender.
Hart will be tough to replace, but having Bridges around should make things easier, as he is perhaps the top perimeter defender in the country. However, Villanova will likely ask Bridges to assume a larger offensive role, which might impact his defense, so the Wildcats will need others to step up.
One of those players must be Brunson. It’s clear what Brunson can do offensively, but his defensive progression at the college level has been more gradual. He continues to get better, and if he takes a leap forward in 2017-18, then Villanova’s defense will be at a high level again.
The other key will be Spellman and the rest of the frontline. While the talented redshirt freshman should prove plenty of highlights on offense, the coaching staff likely knows their season might depend on how well Spellman can defend the paint. One might suspect that Wright would even take a little less offense from Spellman if it means he is excelling on defense.
The biggest boost Villanova will get this season defensively is depth. Booth will give the Wildcats another option to defend guard. Spellman, Painter, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree offer more options on the interior than last season. Improvements by DiVincenzo and Paschall, both of whom struggled on defense last year at times, will also help. A related key to depth is that Villanova will be able to play a little more aggressively, as they won’t be as worried about foul trouble. Even going two extra players deep means an additional 10 fouls to work with this season.
How it will look is a little tougher to project. The Wildcats will of course use a lot of man-to-man defense and trapping full-court pressures. In the half court set, Bridges will likely guard each team’s top player down the stretch, while he might take a more traditional defensive role of guarding the wing early on. The defensive ability of Brunson will likely impact whether Bridges needs to guard the ball as often. Spellman, though, is the wild card. Depending on what he can do defensively, Villanova might be able to switch up looks and use different formations than they did a year ago.
Overall, though, defense will be more of a work in progress — a natural result of possibly having four first-year players in the rotation. However, the Wildcats only recruit players they know can play defense in the Big East, so by early 2018, the team might look like the stellar defensive teams of years past.