This year’s Wildcats have awfully big shoes to fill on the offensive end. Following their National Championship winning campaign, Villanova sent its four leading scorers to the NBA. Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall will be next in line to carry the offensive load, but Jay Wright will have to find production out of his trio of sophomores, a grad transfer, and a talented but unproven freshman class.
By most measures, Villanova’s 2017-2018 offense will go down as one of the greatest of all time. Not only did that team capture a second championship in three years, it dominated several key offensive metrics and set records. Villanova finished as both the highest scoring and as the most efficient scoring team in the country, leading in KenPom’s adjusted offense and finishing second in true shooting and efficient field goal percentage.
Villanova Offensive Stats
Last season’s Wildcats team revolutionized how college basketball can be dominated at the highest level. Villanova pushed the outer limits of spacing, almost exclusively using lineups that features five prolific three point shooters. As a result, the team took the second most threes but, more importantly, set an NCAA record for most threes made in a season, proving a team could (easily) shoot its way to a championship.
However, with its four highest scorers now in the NBA, we may know less about this year’s Villanova offense than we have in years.
What We Know
Let’s start with that we know: The same offensive principles that drove last season’s team to preposterous efficiency will be guiding this year’s iteration. Jay Wright has devised a system at Villanova that has been consistent and over the past several years, Wright and his staff have refined that system in a way that has made this offense run like a Fortune 500 company.
Its About the Principles
First and foremost, the Wildcats take quality shots and lots of threes. Over the past three years, Villanova has finished second, second and fourth in two point field goal percentage and fifth, thirty-first, and second in three point shots attempted. This is the formula for Jay Wright teams: Take and make threes often because it will create opportunities for easy twos. Judging by how things have gone over the last three years, expect this Villanova team to bomb from deep but get quality looks inside the arc.
Like shot selection, Villanova will likely employ the same style of play with this group as it has in previous seasons. The Wildcats will continue their conservative pace of play, picking moments but ultimately opting to dismantle its opponent in the half court. Last year’s team was “fast” by Jay Wright standards, slotting in at 140th in the nation in possessions per 40 minutes. In years past, Wright’s team have been even more methodical, but last year ‘Nova found the perfect balance between running and playing patiently.
Villanova hasn’t felt the need to speed things up because of how efficiently the team spaces the floor. This season, the team has reloaded with more shooting talent, meaning most lineups on the floor will have four or more capable three point shooters. The Wildcats will run at a similar pace to last year, getting into transition only when an opportunity presents itself and more often than not choosing to spread a team out to get quality looks.
Here’s what else we know: Eric Paschall and Phil Booth are going to be the focal points of the offense. Paschall is coming off his best season as a Wildcat, playing the third most minutes per game and scoring in double digits while shooting 53.3% from the floor. Over the last three months of the year, Paschall showed off a very efficient three point stroke, shooting an eye-popping 44.1% from deep.
This season, the Wildcats will look to get Paschall the ball in a variety of sets. Paschall is not only a capable spot-up shooter, but has improved as a slasher in dribble hand-offs and face-up scorer in the post. Expect Jay Wright to leverage these skills in called plays.
Meanwhile, Phil Booth is fully healthy for the first time in a long time, and that showed in both the Blue and White game and the team’s “secret” scrimmage with UNC. After a so-so campaign last season, Booth will be the driving force of the offense and relied upon heavily to shoulder the scoring load.
Beyond Booth and Paschall, the Wildcats will hope that Sophomores Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels make the jump and contribute right away. Gillespie and Cosby-Roundtree will likely find themselves starters on opening day, with Jay Wright confirming the former’s status in a recent interview. Gillespie closed out the season on a high note and has shown himself to be a tenacious defender with a scoring touch from the outside.
To earn his spot, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will need to shoulder the load defensively and gobble up rebounds with the departure of Omari Spellman. In limited minutes, the 6’9” Philly native posted an impressive 10.4% offensive rebound rate, good for best on the team. On the other end, Cosby-Roundtree struggled on the glass, consuming only 14.2% of available defensive rebounds, good for sixth best. The sophomore forward will need to improve as a rebounder and hold his ground better with the influx of minutes he’s bound to see.
What We’ll Find Out
There are a multitude of fascinating and frightening questions for Jay Wright to answer this season and how he and his team answer those questions will dictate how good this team can be.
Limited Spaces for Many Faces
For starters, the starters — Who will fill out the starting five? Beyond Paschall, Booth and Gillespie, Wright has not committed to a fourth or fifth starter. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is likely to start as Jay Wright has typically used a traditional big, but the final slot remains the bigger question mark. Freshman Jahvon Quinerly and grad transfer Joe Cremo are the two front-runners, but Jermaine Samuels has impressed so far in camp.
One thing we know about Jay Wright, especially of late, is that the coach likes a tighter rotation in the final months of the season. Five and a “sixth starter” consume a majority of the minutes, with two additional bench players playing in the 15-20 minute range and a ninth playing below ten. While Booth, Paschall and Gillespie are guaranteed playing time, the remaining two starting spots, sixth man spot, and two bench contributor spots will be fought over by the likes of Cremo, Quinerly, Cosby-Roundtree, Samuels, Dylan Painter, Brandon Slater, Cole Swider and Saddiq Bey.
How the team closes games and who becomes the team’s finisher is also still up in the air. Villanova has mostly gone to a hybrid closing lineup that almost always consists of a smaller group with more shooting. Expect Eric Paschall to play a lot of minutes as the team’s “big” and for Jay to surround him with shooters that can defend multiple positions. Phil Booth is likely to take the mantle from Jalen Brunson and assume the role of the finisher, but the likes of Paschall, Cremo, Gillespie, and Quinnerly all have big game pedigree.
With all the questions that remain unanswered on the offensive end, this season will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting the team has had in years. Buckle up folks.