Villanova Basketball’s 2017 Bench Mob
To say that Villanova’s walk-ons didn’t have much of a statistical impact on this year’s team would be an understatement. The trio of Denny Grace, Matt Kennedy, and Tom Leibig combined for 0 points, 0 shot attempts, a missed free-throw, 6 total rebounds, a steal, a turnover, and two fouls. All of that came in just 35 total minutes, which accounts for less than half a percent of the total team minutes.
But to say that they didn’t have an impact last year would be flat out wrong. On a team that dealt with set backs and a short bench all season, having three committed juniors and seniors at the end of the bench was a huge plus for the Wildcats. Not only were they part of the emotional backbone of the team, but they became invaluable in practice as the team dealt with injuries throughout the year.
Did the bench meet or exceed expectations in 2016-17?
It may not be the “Bench Mob” that Villanova fans had fell in love with over the last four seasons, but it didn’t have to be. When Henry Lowe, now a graduate assistant, and crew came on as freshman, their wild antics on the sidelines were a welcome distraction sometimes as Villanova was still rebounding from a losing season. This year’s bench needed to be a focused, high energy group that reflected the poise of a team that only lost three regular season games.
In the first year in uniform for all three players, this year’s bench played their role to perfection. Denny Grace, younger brother of former walk-on Tom Grace, was one of the hardest working guys on the team. As a senior leader, he could often be found rooting on his teammates from the end of the bench. While he may have only suited up for one season, his work behind the scenes was crucial for Villanova’s successful campaign.
Matt Kennedy and Tom Leibig, both juniors, will return next season as the team’s only seniors. Head coach Jay Wright puts a premium on senior leadership, and he’ll look for these two to step up with next year’s younger squad. Whether it be in the classroom, in practice, or during games, Matt and Tom will be expected to instill the principles of Villanvoa Basketball into the incoming freshmen class. At the same time, they’ll be asked to help mentor and set an example for a team that will be mostly freshmen and sophomores.
Overall it was a solid season for the bench. They did everything that was asked of them on the court, and even more behind the scenes. These guys will never get the accolades of their teammates, and they likely won’t be professional basketball players. But they are just as important in their roles to Villanova Basketball as any other member of the team, and that’s part of what makes the Wildcats so successful.