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Villanova Basketball’s Bryan Antoine, and Nova fans, will need to be patient

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After recording just two minutes against Penn, it’s clear Wright is taking his time with the 5-star freshman

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Happy Thursday Nova Nation! It’s always a great day after a win, and even better when you’re there to see it in person. My wife and I were at the game last night, and despite some annoying Penn students that were sitting behind us and had the AUDACITY to criticize Jay Wright’s wardrobe, it was a great game to be at. A little closer throughout than I would have liked, but still a great game.

After the game though, there’s one area a lot of people seem to be concerned about. Less an area, than one player in particular. Bryan Antoine, Villanova’s 5-star freshman, only played two minutes in last night’s game, none of which came in the second half. Since making his debut at the Myrtle Beach Invitational, Antoine is averaging over 8 MPG, but that’s a bit misleading. While he saw a combined 31 minutes against Middle Tennessee and La Salle, his minute totals in the other three games (against better competition) have been <1, 0, and 2.

Personally, I’m not worried. And I think there are very good reasons that he didn’t play a lot in those three games that I’ll get into in a minute. Would I like to see him on the court more? Absolutely. But I think the fan base needs to take a breath, consider everything that’s going on, and think a little more long term. Here’s three things we should consider regarding Antoine’s minutes.

Bryan Antoine’s situation isn’t the same as Jahvon Quinerly’s

The comment I’m hearing most frequently is that Jay is screwing up another 5-star recruit and that this is going to have detrimental recruiting consequences. First off, it’s been three games under 10 minutes, I don’t think that ruins anything with recruiting. Second, a lot of this comparison has to do with what happened to Jahvon Quinerly last season. I can’t stress this enough, these are entirely different cases.

Quinerly’s minutes last year were surprising not just because of his talent, but because of the opportunity in front of him. There was a need at the position, but for a number of reasons he wasn’t bought in. I’m not going to rehash the situation, but what he did have was the time to prepare for the role, and a need by the team.

Bryan Antoine’s situation is completely different. First off, he missed the entire offseason. That’s huge, especially for a freshman that has to learn an entirely new system on both ends of the court. Quinerly had that opportunity and didn’t pick it up. And it’s not impossible to do, Bey did it last year and Robinson-Earl has done it now. Sure, there are still rookie mistakes and it’s not perfect, but they had the time to learn and grow in those roles. Antoine has been able to learn this stuff on the court for one month, not six as would usually be the case. It doesn’t matter if you play him every minute for the rest of the season, you can’t just magically make up for that kind of missed time.

And there’s also the fact that Antoine’s best skills at this point are on offense, the one area Villanova is actually excelling at. Sure he can make them better, he has that kind of talent. But eight games into the season Villanova is the 2nd most efficient offense in the country, so there’s no need to rush him back just to help on that end of the ball. Quinerly could have helped last year’s team in giving them another option on an offense that had three, maybe four. This year’s team clearly has six options already, and they’re all producing. There’s no need to rush him back to fill a need at this point

There’s more going on than you see on your TV screen

Being at the game last night, and my wife can confirm this, I only spent about half of the time watching the actual game. I actually made a concentrated effort to watch the interactions on Villanova’s bench, knowing I could go back and rewatch what was happening on the court on my DVR. Specifically, I wanted to see who the coaches were sitting with, talking to, and coaching up.

There was a lot of time spent with guys going in and out of the game. As usual, you could tell when guys were getting chastised for defensive lapses or words of encouragement on taking the ball down in the paint when Penn tried to run Villanova off the perimeter. But there were also a number of occasions when Jay would see something on the court, walk down to where Antoine was sitting, and point it out specifically to him. Sure there were other guys around him and the lessons I’m sure were good for everyone on the bench. But from my seats it was clear Jay was talking to Antoine, and I’d assume telling him what to be keying in on from the bench.

The point here is that even if Antoine’s not in the game, Jay’s coaching him like he is. We only get to see what happens with this team for two, four, or six hours a week depending on how many games they have. We don’t get to see what happens in practice, which takes up about 10x the amount of court time than what we see in a game. But there’s clearly an effort to ramp Antoine up, even if the minutes aren’t there yet. You don’t see that level of attention to players who aren’t playing if there isn’t a clear plan for them moving forward.

There is such a thing as too much playing time

Let me start by saying I’d like to see Antoine getting at least 10 minutes a night. I understand that’s not always going to happen, especially early on in close games. I don’t subscribe to the “lose games now to help develop players”, because last night five freshmen and sophomores who are still developing (Bey, Robinson-Earl, Moore, Swider, and Slater) all played 20+ minutes in a win. They may still be developing, but they were also ready to contribute to a victory. This isn’t a case of players not getting time to develop, I think it’s better described as making sure they’re set up to develop.

Antoine has a lot to learn still. You can see when he gets in that his talents can make up for a lot, but you also see that he has a lot to learn as well. It’s one thing to play bigger minutes against teams that aren’t at Villanova’s level. We’ve seen Antoine look good in those games, even if they also came with a lot of moments when he looked lost or clearly got beat. That’s expected, and he’s still learning. But it’s also not something we’d expect from Villanova players.

My worry with sending him out there for 30+ minutes a night, which some have suggested, is that too many things could go wrong and not enough things go right. Unfortunately we already have an example of this in Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. DCR does some things really well, and I still think he should be playing more than he is. But he’s also been making more and more mental errors, and as they build up his level of play and minutes have been declining. I’d hate to see something similar happen to Antoine, and there’s a non-zero chance that playing him extensively when there’s still a lot he needs to learn could be detrimental.

At the end of the day, I’m not an expert on college basketball. I’m not in practice with the team every day. And I’m not a future hall of fame coach. Jay Wright is those things, and I think the fan base needs to trust that he’s doing what’s best for the player and the team. It’s still early December, and our initial assessment was that Antoine wouldn’t even be eligible to play for another month. Let’s just all have some patience and see how things develop through the rest of the non-conference.

In other “news”, Saddiq Bey was super impressive last night, the Women’s team fell in overtime to Drexel, and DePaul is still undefeated. Enjoy!

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