The Villanova Wildcats are a young team this year, there’s no denying it. And like any young team, it’s hard to predict where their potential and their production are going to intersect. Last night’s Blue & White Scrimmage started to shed a little bit of light onto what expectations the Nova Nation should have this season.
Pregame Talks with Players and Jay Wright
The evening started with a quick trip to the corrections department. Earlier in the day, Jay Wright accidentally set off a bit of a frenzy when saying that star freshman Bryan Antoine may redshirt the season after surgery to repair a shoulder injury over the summer. So Wright quickly brought Antoine up to the stage to ask him if he’d be red-shirting this season, to which Bryan answered emphatically, “I am NOT!” Wright would go on to apologize, explaining that he was just being thorough in his answer and not ruling anything out.
In reality, Antoine’s recovery is proceeding as expected. He and Wright detailed that the current plan is to complete the full course of his rehab, which would have him on track to return to full practices in November. He’ll still need some time to get up to speed once he’s back on the court, but the goal is to have him ready for games sometime in December. That puts him on pace to miss the first six to ten games of the season, but should have him back in time for either Kansas or the Big East opener against Xavier if not sooner.
Even better than the full injury update was seeing Antoine putting up shots pregame, despite not getting on the court once the whistle blew. Still, this is all a great sign that one of the Wildcats most talented freshman is progressing in the right direction.
The other injury update came from Collin Gillespie. Jay Wright prompted his team captain to explain to the crowd why he came into the season looking like Hollywood and now he looks like Rocky Marciano.
Earlier this week, Gillespie took an inadvertent elbow from Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree that broke his nose. That’s right, hands are so the last two seasons, it’s noses now. Gillespie will have a simple procedure on Monday to fix the break, but it will need time to heal. Unfortunately that means he’ll be out a week, and that includes missing next week’s exhibition game at USC. Following his week off, Gillespie will return to the court with a mask. He even joked that we’ll have another mask this season in reference to Joe Cremo who started last year with a mask.
Gillespie, like Antoine, didn’t play in the scrimmage. But that didn’t stop him for cheering on his teammates and talking through things with the coaching staff on the sideline. In his absence, the lead ball handling roles will go to freshman Justin Moore. Moore was more of a combo guard in high school, but he’s certainly capable with the ball in his hands (more on that later). The other two options at point guard will be Saddiq Bey and Chris Arcidiacono. Bey showed an impressive step up in his ball handling from last year, and Arcidiacono played point guard throughout high school.
Some other fun facts that came up before things moved to the court, Jermaine Samuels had to admit that he’s no longer the best video game player on the team. Despite his proven Fortnite skills, that title now resides with freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. We also learned that there’s a fourth Arcidiacono on the team! Walk-on Kevin Hoehn is actually a cousin of the Arcidiaconos, continuing that family’s storied lineage at Villanova. He got the birthday treatment from his teammates on stage to finish off the session.
Happy Birthday to our guy Kevin Hoehn !!! pic.twitter.com/H08SgIPuDC— Jay Wright (@VUCoachJWright) October 11, 2019
When the players left to start warming up, Jay Wright brought out some of Nova Nation’s favorite alumni from recent years to talk about their time at and after Villanova. Kris Jenkins, Tony Chenault, and Darryl Reynolds came up to talk with Wright and answer questions, while other former players like Shane Clark and Doug West were also in attendance.
The Games and Scores
The scrimmage was set up as three 10 minute games. With Gillespie, Antoine, and the walk-ons sitting out, that left ten players for a perfect 5 on 5 where nobody came out. The white team was coached by Kyle Neptune, while George Halcovage took over the blue team. Wright and Mike Nardi watched from the sidelines and would decide which players switched teams between games. They also reset the score to simulate end game situations in the final minute of each game. The only other rule quirk was that if there was a shooting foul (not the and 1 variety), the player would get 1 point automatically and have to shoot for the other. This rule did not apply to shooting free throws if the other team was over the limit on fouls.
The White team one the first game on a legit buzzer beater from Saddiq Bey, 21-19. But the other two games were Blue team blow-outs of 26-16 and 26-18 before the scores were adjusted for end game simulations. I did my best to track scoring through the three games, and here’s a breakdown by player and game:
Villanova Blue & White Scrimmage Scoring
|Player||G1 Team||G1 Points||G2 Team||G2 Points||G3 Team||G3 Points||Total Points|
|Player||G1 Team||G1 Points||G2 Team||G2 Points||G3 Team||G3 Points||Total Points|
In general, both teams came out a little cold shooting the ball. But when buckets weren’t dropping, everyone was attacking the boards and showing that Villanova once again can be a force on the offensive glass this season. While you could tell it was very “bare bones” as far as offensive and defensive schemes go, the team’s spacing looked impressive given how man younger players were out there. Defense as expected will still need some work, although it’s early and there were a few bright spots from individual defenders.
Before we get into each player, I just wanted to point out that this was a preseason scrimmage, so take things like points or specific plays with a grain of salt. I was more looking for improvements from last year from the sophomores and juniors, and comfort and role for the freshman. Let’s dive right in!
Samuels had a really good night, and looked exactly like fans were hoping he would following a late season breakout last year. This guy attacks the rim on offense like he’s determined to rip it out of the backboard. He was great on the both boards, and finished strong inside. He continues to show the ability to beat his man off the dribble as well as knock down shots from the perimeter. I won’t be surprised if he’s moved back out to the wing this year with the depth Villanova will have inside.
Samuels will be one of the most versatile players on the team, especially on defense. Big things will be expected of him as a junior leader, and everything I saw last night leads me to believe he’s ready to meet those expectations.
The junior big man continues to be the best rebounder on this team, especially on the offensive glass. He pulled down a number of second chance opportunities for his team throughout the night, but too often looked to pass the ball back out instead of looking for an opportunity to score. He did show the continued development of being able to score while backing down a defender 1 on 1 in the paint and is highly efficient when getting the ball underneath from a driving teammate.
The energy is there, the leadership is there, he’s doing everything the coaching staff is asking of him. But if he’s going to return to the double-double guy we saw in November of last year, he’ll have to find a way to convert those offensive rebounds into points.
When asked after the scrimmage what he thought of Villanova now that he’d been here a while, Daniels had just three words. “I love Villanova.” If Bey was the most impressive player of the night, Daniels was easily the most impressive newcomer. He was making plays all over the court on both offense and defense. He was scoring at the rim, mid-range, and beyond the arc. On defense he was disruptive and even had a block on freshman Justin Moore. Just an overall great game from the transfer.
Granted, he’s heading into what would be his Junior season, so he had as much or more experience than anybody on the court. But still, his performance was enough for Jay to joke after the game about getting a waiver for him to play this season. Without any strong candidates in Villanova’s 2020 recruiting class, Daniels looks like he’ll easily be the best new player on next year’s team.
After last year’s B&W Scrimmage, I went from thinking Bey could redshirt to thinking he’d be Villanova’s rookie of the year. After this year’s B&W Scrimmage, I’m convinced Bey is the top candidate to lead the team in scoring and be their go to guy in clutch situations. His handle and ability to create off the dribble have taken massive steps forward, and he showed that he can just take over and go get a bucket when the team needs him to. He has a solid outside shot, he can finish at the rim, and he’s even developed a consistent mid-range game that he used to hit a game winner at the buzzer in the first game of the night. He can defend 1 through 5, and looks great on the boards as well.
Bey just looks like he’s working smarter, not harder this year, letting his game come to him and making the right decisions with the ball. We’ve all heard the NBA draft rumors about him, well guess what, they’re real. Bey was the most impressive player on the court last night.
Cole Swider is a different player when his shot is falling. In the first game he may have been trying a bit too hard, and while he wasn’t struggling by any means he just didn’t look smooth in what he was doing. But once the nerves calmed down and the shots started falling, you couldn’t stop him. Swider’s game may rely a lot on his confidence this season, but when it’s there he’s lethal from behind the arc.
He still has trouble creating his own shot from outside, but he can flat out knock down anything as a spot up shooter. He also displayed an ability to finish inside when he had an open lane or with a head fake to get by closing defenders when his teammates found him in the corner. Swider will force larger defenders to guard him on the perimeter and really open up the floor for his teammates that can beat their man off the dribble. He should be one of the first guys off the bench for Villanova this year, and could lead the bench in scoring.
Slater had a quiet night offensively, which was a little surprising given the hype from his fellow teammates and people around the team this offseason. I wouldn’t say he had an off night, he was just often matched up against Samuels or Bey and that’s not going to lead to many offensive opportunities. What was impressive was his defense. Without much to compare it to from last season, he surely didn’t look like a freshman out there.
His night was highlighted by two plays, one on each end of the court. On defense, Bey tried to drive him to the hoop. Not only did Slater stay in front of Bey, but he was able to get his hands up and get a piece of the ball to prevent the shot. His offensive highlight was actually an assist. With the ball at the top of the key, Eric Dixon came up to set a pick for him. Slater deftly used the pick to draw both defenders and thread a perfect bounce pass between them to a rolling Dixon who finished with a one handed jam at the hoop. It may have been a quite night for Slater, but there were plenty of signs that the offseason hype is real.
Of all the freshman coming into the season, Moore is going to be asked to do the most the soonest. Putting the Gillespie injury aside, Moore was still going to have to run the Villanova offense this year. The initial results looked pretty good, if not a little raw. Moore is a capable point guard who can penetrate of the dribble, create for himself and his teammates, and has great court vision. His handle isn’t elite, but that will improve as he plays more with the ball in his hands, same with his passing. But he’s already there as a scorer, and like most Villanova guards is a threat inside and out. He looked especially good in transition, both offensively and defensively.
Speaking of defense, he’s a scrappy defender that is good at disrupting lanes and playing up on the ball without losing his man. You can tell he has next level toughness and should develop into a guy that can get under his opponents skin. He still made his fare share of rookie mistakes, but the talent is apparent and he just needs time to hone his skills. He’ll certainly be able to handle the backup point guard position this year.
After being named the Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year earlier that day, Robinson-Earl reminded everyone on twitter and that he hadn’t earned anything yet. Sounds like a Villanova player already!
Robinson-Earl had a quite night offensively, but showed off all the skills that earned him the prestigious conference honor. His ability to move with the ball in the post is incredible, and his footwork is well beyond what you usually see in a freshman. He almost looked like a dancer the way he seemed to glide and spin through the defense. In fact his lack of scoring in the later games had a lot more to do with Eric Dixon’s defense than Robinson-Earl not executing.
But even when he didn’t have the ball, the 5-Star forward remained active and moving on both ends. He was really good at positioning himself for rebounds and boxing out on both ends. The only nitpick I had was that I didn’t see much of the high level passing in the paint that he’s exhibitted at the high school level. That’s not to say it’s not there, but my expectation was that Robinson-Earl could allow this team to run the offense through the paint the way it had in 2016 with Daniel Ochefu. That may still come this season as the team continues to come together, but it wasn’t really there last night.
The last note I wrote down from the scrimmage read simply “I don’t know how you keep Dixon off the court.” He may not have shown up in the scoring column, but this guy did everything you need someone to do to win games. He rebounded with tenacity, he made quick decisions with the ball, he didn’t force anything but rather let his game come to him. He’s a really talented player that has range to the arc but the body and shoulders to knock people around inside. It’s not hard to see why the coaching staff loves this guy.
On defense he looked really good, especially guarding Robinson-Earl. He was talkative on the court, active in the passing lanes, and attacked the boards on both ends. He still needs some work on his inside game, but watch out if he gets a head of steam behind him. Dixon is going to be a contributor this season, and he already looks like the type of player you point out when defining Villanova Basketball.
Considering that I counted three separate times that Chris Arcidiacono was diving on the court for a loose ball, it’s not hard to see that he has the same tenacity and toughness that his older brother Ryan played with. The younger Arcidiacono by far had the most energy of anyone on the court last night, and held his own on both ends.
Arcidiacono’s biggest strength on offense right now will be as relief at point guard and his skills as a spot up shooter. He’s a scrappy defender that has some size, but he was out of position or got blown by on more than one occasion. It’s clear that he has the athleticism and skill to be playing on this team, the question is how big his role will be this season.
Post Game Q&A with Players and Jay Wright
- Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels spoke to the challenge of becoming leaders this year. They’re still learning and improving, but now also have to be teachers.
- With Gillespie out, Saddiq Bey and Chris Arcidiacono will help cover the point guard responsibilities while Justin Moore will become the starter. Bey says everyone handles the ball in practice, so it isn’t too big a change.
- Wright accidentally said Ryan when referring to his brother Chris. Got the biggest laugh of the night.
- On team chemistry, Wright said it’s good on the court, great off it. He explained that teams build chemistry through experiences. Tonight was an experience, so will the game with USC. You take what happens in those experiences, you talk about them, and they help bring you together as a team.
- On Big East Media day, Wright said you could tell that there was a buzz around the league. He could sense that with everyone else getting better this year and Villanova losing the two best players last year that opposing players and coaches were thinking “This is our time to get ‘em!”
- Wright pointed out that Chris Arcidiacono has grown up watching Villanova basketball, and he gets it. Wright also thinks that Chris and Ryan get their skill for relentless effort and diving for lose balls from their mother, Patty.
- The USC game will be on the PAC-12 network, which is notoriously rare to find out on the East coast. Bust out your radios for this one folks.
- Wright expects that like last year, they’ll have a completely different team by February than they have right now. Having a young team presents that kind of opportunity for rapid growth.
- Wright also acknowledge how they had two 5th year seniors to ride last season. The benefit was that it won them two Big East Titles. The downside was that the younger players didn’t develop as much as he would have liked.
- When asked by a young kid if he’d ever leave Villanova for the NBA, Wright said he loved his experience working with NBA players and coaches this offseason. But to go to the NBA would mean he’d have to leave Villanova, and he doesn’t want to leave.