Let’s start here: I’m not saying these things WILL happen. I’m not even saying that they’re likely to happen. But I am saying they could happen, and that’s what the preseason is all about. Trying to figure out what’s possible before reality sets in and we throw everything else out the window.
Below are my BOLD predictions for the upcoming season. You likely won’t agree with most of them, or even half of them... maybe just one of them. However, there’s no denying that everything you’re about to read has a non-zero chance of happening. And trust me, if all of this comes true, this is going to be one hell of a season.
Last year I proved it’s possible to have a great season even if none of these things happen. In 2018 I went 1 for 11 in my bold predictions, and Nova still won a Championship. This season I’m making 16 predictions, three for the team, one for each scholarship player, and one for the bench mob. Who wants to bet I get at least two right this season? As long as we keep winning titles, I’ll consider it a success!
1) No players will red shirt this season (non-medical)
That’s right, the coach that has had nine players red shirt over the past eight seasons is going to have everyone available this year. How can I be so certain about such a bold claim? Because these numbers aren’t what they seem.
Of the nine red shirts I mentioned, only two of them were by choice. That number includes two transfers, two that weren’t cleared to play, and three medical red shirts. We’ve also seen Wright delay or forgo planned red shirts due to team needs, see Mike Nardi and Dylan Painter as examples. But the other big indicator is what happens when Wright has a deep, young roster.
The last time Villanova had more than 10 active scholarship players was the 2009-10 season. The team was coming off its most successful year of Wright’s tenure, but had lost a lot of key pieces and starters. With only two seniors carrying over from the previous year’s starting lineup, Wright had to invest more time in an incoming transfer and a highly ranked class of four freshmen. Instead of sitting someone for the year, Wright chose to give everyone an average of at least 10 minutes per game. That both allowed the younger team to gain experience quickly and gave Wright time to figure out the rotation. Sound familiar?
2) Villanova will not go undefeated in the Big 5
Ok, now I’m just talking crazy, right? Villanova sweeping the Big 5 has almost become tradition at this point after going 20-0 over the last five seasons. Villanova hasn’t lost a game in the Big5 since 2012, the year they also lost to Columbia. Even with a young roster, this team is leaps and bounds above that year. But now Villanova has to contend with something in the Big5 they never had to before. Or should I say, someone.
Ashley Howard, Jay Wright’s top recruiter and assistant coach for both National Championship runs, has taken over at La Salle. He knows everything about Jay Wright’s system, and just about every player on the roster. Wright has never had to play a game at Villanova against a team with so much insight and insider information on his squad and strategy. If any coach is ever going to have the confidence and know how to end Wright’s run in the Big5, Ashley Howard is it.
And that’s not the only reason Villanova needs to be prepared for this game, the location will be in La Salle’s favor too. Just like they did in the 2017 season, La Salle is hosting this game at the Palestra. The small, historic venue is a breeding ground for upsets. I was there for that game two years ago, and it was easily the loudest and most intense environment I’ve ever been to for a college basketball game. Even as Villanova tried to pull away from LaSalle, they couldn’t shake them. The Explorers fed off the energy in the building until the final two minutes. That was back when Villanova was the #1 team in the country. They won’t be when they head downtown to take on La Salle this year.
3) The Wildcats Big East Regular Season Record: 17-1
Is this Jay Wright’s best Villanova team ever? Probably not. But could it be the biggest gap in talent the Wildcats have had over the rest of the Big East? Yeah, it really could. Only two teams have ever gone 17-1 in the Big East: 1996 UConn and 2012 Syracuse. If things go Nova’s way and everyone stays healthy, they can join that list.
Wright has come close to hitting this mark before. For three straight seasons (‘14-’16), his teams finished 16-2 during the regular season. But now the Big East is facing a “down year”, after losing a lot of upperclassmen to the NBA and graduation. I still think the conference will finish as one of the best in college basketball, and by March they’ll have multiple ranked teams and tournament bids. But I don’t think as many teams will be able to challenge the Wildcats this season, and even then the schedule is stacked in Nova’s favor.
The most important thing for a young team’s development is time. When you look at the one-and-done model teams like Kentucky and Duke, they make huge jumps in ability to play together from November to March. Even by the time conference play comes around, fans can already see improvements. Villanova has the “luxury” of a back loaded schedule this year. While that means they’ll have some pretty tough stretches and some brutal road trips, it also gives them the time they need to come together and gel defensively. Even if this doesn’t end up being Wright’s best team ever, they could be his first one loss Big East team.
Phil Booth will lead Villanova in scoring
I had to do a pretty deep dive into the stats for this one, but it turns out that Phil Booth was Villanova’s leading scorer in the 2016 National Championship game with 20 points. But since that game, injuries and a willingness to facilitate others have kept him out of the scoring spotlight. In his 36 games since his legendary performance in Houston, Booth has led the team in scoring just twice, and only finished in the Top 3 one-third of the time.
But according to Jay Wright, we’re going to see a different Booth this season. “One of the things we’re working on with him this preseason is really being aggressive every day. He’s been such a great player for us because he’s willing to play off the ball and willing to let other people get shots, and not complain, do the little things. We need him this year to be aggressive all the time.”
The aggressive Phil Booth was on display at the Blue/White Scrimmage as he often led his team in scoring. Booth showed off his ability to create his own perimeter shot, pull up in the mid-range, and finish at the rim. Considering that more than 70% of the team’s field-goal attempts just left for the NBA, Booth will certainly have the opportunity to improve on his 10 PPG from last season. Don’t be shocked if he becomes Villanova’s leader on and off the court, even if Eric Paschall is getting the preseason publicity.
Eric Paschall will have career highs in all five per game stat categories
This won’t be Paschall’s first go around as “the guy”. During his freshman season at Fordham, he was the team’s go to player and earned A-10 Rookie of the Year. That year he put up 15.9 PPG and 5.5 RPG, numbers he has yet to duplicate in two seasons at Nova.
However, he has made progress in other areas of his game while with the Wildcats. He had career highs in blocks (0.6 BPG) and steals (0.9 SPG) last season. Where Jay Wright’s system has really helped is assists, as last year Paschall more than doubled his previous two seasons combined (2.2 APG). That includes my favorite assist of last year’s championship run.
Now in his final collegiate season, Eric Paschall is in position to exceed all of his career bests. He’ll be a contender for multiple awards and accolades, and if he has his best statistical season across the board he’ll probably get them. Get ready Nova Nation, the Paschall we’ve waited to see for four years is about to emerge.
Joe Cremo will hit a game winning shot
It’s a little tougher to call my shot with this one, because it could come in any of Villanova’s games. But the larger point I’m trying to make with this pick is that while Cremo may not be in the starting lineup this season, I think he’s highly likely to be out there in close games.
Wright loves to lean on experience when the game is on the line, but he’s also learned to stick with the hot hand. Cremo has the skill set and seniority to be both of those all rolled into one. This guy can flat out catch fire from deep, but he has the skill set to score off the drive as well.
Similar to DiVincenzo last year, I expect Cremo to finish the season Top 5 in minutes and scoring, even though he won’t be in the starting lineup. That certainly puts him in position to win a game late for the Wildcats. It isn’t always the star player that makes that shot, just ask Kris Jenkins, Donte DiVincenzo, or now coach Dwayne Anderson. (Psst - those links are all videos!)
Tim Delaney will double his career scoring total
Wright has said this preseason that he’s in a tough spot with Delaney. After battling back from injuries, Delaney’s role will continue to be the last man off the bench. But while he may be limited physically, Wright has lamented the thought of keeping a player with that much experience on the bench.
Let’s be honest, Delaney probably helps this team in practice more than he does in games. His understanding of Villanova’s offensive philosophies and defensive shifts make him another educator on the court. While that may not earn him additional minutes in the game, it improves the team as a whole.
That doesn’t mean Delaney won’t get in the game. After two seasons of being hit with injuries, the RS Junior played in over half of Villanova’s games last season. While he only averaged a handful of minutes per game, he was able to connect on a three pointer at least once in each of the past two seasons. I think this year he’s good for at least two long bombs, if not more.
Dylan Painter will finish Top 5 on the team in rebounding and blocks
Many of you may be looking at this prediction and saying, “well yeah, he’s our only true center. Of course he’s going to get rebounds and blocks.” But my argument isn’t that he’s just going to do well defending the paint, it’s that he’s going to get the minutes necessary to finish Top 5.
Early on, I’m expecting Painter to see more minutes than Nova Nation may be expecting. While Wright figures out the rotation and get the new guys experience, he’s not just going to throw them all out there at once. He’s going to have three or four experienced players out there to help facilitate things. And at the Blue/White scrimmage, Painter showed that he can excel in that role.
In the first scrimmage, Painter was the most experienced player on his team. Playing with Quinerly, Swider, Slater, Cosby-Roundtree and Samuels, it was Painter that took on the role of vocal leader in the huddle and on the court. After the game, when Wright was asked who he thought looked good, Painter and Samuels were the first names out of his mouth. Wright trusts Painter, and he’s going to use him throughout the season as an anchor in the paint.
Collin Gillespie will finish Top 3 on the team in scoring, assists, and steals
For anyone that thinks Gillespie won’t be a major contributor on this team, get ready to be very wrong. This was an under-recruited, 3-star prospect that the staff thought may have difficulty transitioning to the college game. Fast forward a year, and he’s a starting guard for the defending National Champions. I’d say that’s a good example of overcoming expectations.
But for those of you who want to see it on the stat sheet before you buy in, I have a feeling you won’t have to wait long. While he was limited in his minutes last season, Gillespie’s projection stats were pretty promising. On last year’s team, per 100 possessions he was 3rd in steals, 4th in assists, and 7th in scoring. Given his new starting role, I think he’ll be able to finish Top 3 across all three categories in total stats, not just protections.
Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will break his streak of 18 consecutive made shots
Last season Cosby-Roundtree was the king of consistency for Villanova. Over an eleven game stretch the freshman hit 18 field goals on 18 field goal attempts. While I couldn’t find the school record for consecutive made field goals, I’d have to assume this isn’t far from it.
DCR showed an ability to find open space under the basket last season, and the opponent’s focus on defending the arc and Nova’s dynamic shooters often left him with easy lay in opportunities. That trend should continue this season as Villanova’s approach offensively remains similar to last season.
The question becomes how consistent can Cosby-Roundtree be? After his 18 field goal streak came to an end against UConn in January, the next longest streak he had was just 9 made baskets. But considering he’ll be getting significantly more playing time this year and should continue to see high percentage shots around the rim, I think he can be “Mr. Consistency” once again.
Jermaine Samuels will have at least two double-doubles this season
This is the one prediction I’m bringing back from last year, because I really think it would have happened. Samuels freshman campaign got off to a rocky start as he struggled with the speed of the game and complexity of Villanova’s schemes. Then the season got completely derailed when he broke his hand and wasn’t really part of the rotation once he returned.
But now with a year under his belt, Samuels looks like the player many fans thought they’d see last year. His athleticism gives him a huge advantage on the boards, and from what little we’ve seen/heard in the preseason he’s shooting the ball well. As one of our new writers pointed out this morning, Samuels could be a key to Villanova’s success this season.
Jahvon Quinerly will break Villanova’s freshman assist record
Villanova’s freshman season assist record is 145, set by Kenny Wilson during the 1985-86 season. Wilson was a highly touted recruit coming into the program to replace a point guard who was leaving Villanova with a National Championship. Sound familiar?
In fairness, this isn’t really the same situation. That said, Quinerly is going to have a great opportunity to break this record. His ability to break down a defender and kick-out to open shooters is ideal for Villanova’s system. On top of that, Quinerly can score from anywhere and should draw the attention of defenses, again leading to open teammates.
The numbers are on his side as well. For the last three seasons, Villanova’s starting point guard has averaged 167 assists and always eclipsed the 145 mark. Now granted, those years included two national championship runs by two of the greatest point guards in Villanova history. But they were running the same offensive system that Quinerly will be running, and I’m confident he’s capable of stepping up and filling those shoes.
Cole Swider will shoot over 45% from beyond the arc
You may think this isn’t that impressive given the situation Swider’s coming into. Not only is he considered the best shooter of the 2018 class, but Villanova has shown that getting open threes is a big part of their offensive philosophy.
That said, 45% (on a minimum of 10 shot attempts) is something only three Villanova freshmen have accomplished under Jay Wright. The crazy part is, 2 of those 3 are still with the team! Phil Booth (48.4%), Malcom Grant (46.6%), and Dwayne Anderson (45.5%) were the only rookies to put up those gaudy numbers from deep.
Villanova is still loaded with outside shooters, returning Paschall, Booth, and Gillespie while adding Cremo. But if Swider is as good as advertised, he could outshine them all as the next great Wildcat sharpshooter.
Brandon Slater will win Big East rookie of the week at least once
It’s always interesting to me how a highlight video can’t compare to watching a player live. I’ve been watching Slater highlight videos since Villanova began recruiting him, so I knew he was going to be a good player. But it wasn’t until the Blue/White scrimmage that I realized how special he could be in Villanova’s system.
This guy is a gifted athlete with a long wingspan who can seemingly get to and finish at the rim with ease. He’s also got an outside shot, and defensively his ceiling could be Mikal Bridges. He may be the best all-around player in the freshman class, and you’d have to think that talent is going to shine through in at least a couple games this season. With his potential and the team around him, he could easily be named BE rookie of the week a handful of times this season.
Saddiq Bey will out-rebound the rest of his freshman teammates combined
Bey was a late addition to the 2018 recruiting class, not to mention the lowest ranked of the four. Like most of Nova Nation, I was excited to add another talented player to the roster. However, he was looked at as more of a long term project and redshirt target. And then I saw him play at the Blue/White scrimmage.
He jumped out to me the way Paschall and Ochefu did the first time I saw them play. This is a special player with great physical tools, and I’d be honestly disappointed if he wasn’t playing right away. What was most apparent was his quick decision making and attacking style. He didn’t think twice about putting up open shots or quickly moving the ball around the arc. That’s usually one of the stumbling blocks for freshman.
But what I was most impressed by was his rebounding. It reminded me of Josh Hart, the way he attacked the basketball like it belonged to him and you were trying to steal it. Bey cleared space on the floor, boxed out, crashed from the outside, everything you want in a great rebounder. Especially from young players, Wright values defense and rebounding above all else. If Bey already has that under his belt, not only will he get the minutes needed to be a top rebounder on this team, he’s going to outshine a lot of people while doing it.
The Bench Mob will play in no more than five games this season
Nova Nation has become accustomed to seeing a lot of the bench mob. After a blowout victory, they’re the ones to run out the clock to our delight. Over the last five seasons, Villanova walk-ons have averaged playing in over 12 games, which includes playing in at least 15 games in three of the last four years. But this season is going to be much different. In fact, I don’t think we’ll see much of Peyton Heck and Tim Saunders at all.
It won’t be because Villanova isn’t winning games in blowout fashion, there will still be plenty of those. With so many young players on the roster, Wright will be giving the rookies every second of playing time he can. Even in a blowout, those are valuable minutes for the new players to experience scenarios, crowds, and pressure you can’t simulate in practice.
Unfortunately, that playing time will come at the expense of the Bench Mob. But that’s going to be fine with them. They know their role on the team is to make the other guys better, and if sacrificing playing time is how they can help then that’s what they’ll do. That’s the Villanova Way, and no one exemplifies it more than the walk-ons.