It’s good to be the king. Whether you’ve been completely put at ease by Nova’s three victories in four days or you’re still questioning what this team’s capable of, your Villanova Wildcats are again Champions. Let’s all take a minute to let Nova’s sixth consecutive early season tournament championship sink in and acknowledge the work these young men put in to win it.
After Furman, we needed that. But as head coach Jay Wright would say, accomplishments like this are to be admired after the season is over. Now it’s time to get back to work.
It seems that the first two weeks of the season resulted in more questions than answers. Now we’re finally getting some of those answers, but a few questions remain. So today we’re going to review what the fans have learned in the past week, and what the team still needs to figure out.
Who will start for Villanova this season?
Answer: Gillespie, Booth, Paschall, Bey, Cosby-Roundtree
Jay Wright’s first starting lineup of the season included Dylan Painter, who’s no longer on the team. His next test run included Joe Cremo, but he’s proven to be more of an asset off the bench than seeing starter minutes. Then came the two losses, both of which saw Jermaine Samuels start. To be clear, I don’t think we lost because Samuels started, that’s just a coincidence.
But for Villanova’s three game run through the AdvoCare Invitational, Wright went with the five guys that seemed to have distinguished themselves as the most reliable this season. Phil Booth, Eric Paschall, and Collin Gillespie have started every game this year. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree has started all but the season’s first game. And freshman Saddiq Bey has proven himself on both ends of the floor, earning him starting minutes. Barring an injury or some other drastic change (knock on wood), I think these are your starting five for the rest of the season.
I will add one caveat though. I said these five were the most reliable, not that they’ve been reliable. Booth and Paschall are turning the ball over more than twice a game each. Gillespie is the weakest link defensively in the starting lineup. Cosby-Roundtree had four or more fouls in every game he played in Florida, and Bey is still making freshman mistakes. The point is, while the starters have distinguished themselves they all still have areas in which they need to improve.
Who’s been the best surprise this season?
Answer: Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree
Let’s start by throwing out some honorable mentions. Collin Gillespie has proven he can be a go-to scorer for the Wildcats, and while his point guard skills need work he is improving. Saddiq Bey also belongs in this category as a player that went from possible red-shirt to starting. But as much as those two have been better than expected, I never would have guessed this was going to happen:
In this tournament, Dada AVERAGED over 11 points and over 11 rebounds. He missed one shot in the entire tournament, going 13 for 14 from the floor. He shot 75% at the free throw line, never missing more than once in a game. He added 7 steals, 5 assists, and 3 blocks over the course of the week, all without ever leading the team in minutes.
To say the young man had an efficient tournament would be a gross understatement. He did get into significant foul trouble every game in Florida, including fouling out of the Florida State game. But given Nova’s struggles to keep opponents out of the lane, it makes sense that the guy responsible for most of the help defense would get caught eating up fouls.
Cosby-Roundtree may not have the most fluid game of all the Wildcats, but he’s proven time and time again to be the most consistent. He may not be a threat from deep like the rest of the team, but he’s been a tremendous rebounder and shot blocker on a squad that desperately needs both. He’s been especially effective on the offensive glass, where he currently has the 9th best OR% in the country. DCR’s production has been a welcome surprise, and one I hope continues throughout the season.
Will the turnovers go down?
One of the biggest issues for the Wildcats this season has been turning over the ball. I hope you’re all sitting down, because these numbers are scary. The Wildcats are averaging 14.5 turnovers per game, and I rounded that number down. That means through seven games, Villanova’s already committed over 100 turnovers, increasing their TO% to 21.5% which ranks 280th in the country. Their assist to turnover ratio is LESS THAN ONE. Guys, that’s bad.
What may be worse is who’s committing the lion’s share of those turnovers. Phil Booth (16) and Eric Paschall (17) have combined for nearly a third of the team’s give aways. Jermaine Samuels, who’s likely seen his minutes drop because of this stat, is next on the list with 12 on the season. Surprisingly, the guy who’s had the ball in his hands the most and played the third most minutes, Collin Gillespie, only has 10 turnovers on the season. Considering half of those came against Michigan, he’s actually been fairly good at maintaining possession.
Specifically with Booth and Paschall, the issue has been when they decide to put the team on their collective backs and play hero ball. Sure, sometimes they’ve had to in an attempt to give Nova any chance at a victory. But other times it’s just been bad passes or out of control drives. Booth’s been especially susceptible to this lately, recording three turnovers in each game of last week’s tournament.
I’ve heard the call that we need to bring in a point guard off the bench because Booth and Gillespie are better as shooting guards off the ball. While it’s certainly true that their natural positions are as off-ball guards, there’s two problems with this line of thinking. One, outside of the Michigan game, Gillespie really hasn’t had a problem turning the ball over. And two, the only true point guard on the team, Jahvon Quinerly, has just as many turnovers as Gillespie (10) in almost one third of the time. We all know where this is going, but more on that later.
Is the rotation set?
Answer: Probably Not
Let’s take a look at the minutes distribution this past week. We’ll begin with the starting five. They each played at least 21 minutes in every game of the tournament (usually due to foul trouble), and each played at least 30 minutes in one or more games. Quick rant, for anyone complaining that Booth and Paschall were getting run into the ground, their average minutes on the season are 32 and 31.4 respectively. To put that into perspective, those are fewer than the leading player for any of the last three seasons (Bridges 32.1 in ‘18, Hart 33.1 in ‘17, and Arcidiacono 32.1 in ‘16).
Joe Cremo and Cole Swider also seem safely in the rotation, each averaging 15+ minutes per game and never playing fewer than 10. On the other end of the spectrum Slater and Delaney have yet to play 10 minutes in a game this year, and the walkons have yet to see the court.
That leaves Jermaine Samuels and Jahvon Quinerly. Samuels does have a spot in the rotation, and has been one of the first players off the bench. However, his minutes have been steadily slipping since starting in three of the first four games. In Florida, Samuels averaged 9 minutes per game, with a high of 13 against Oklahoma State. He’s struggled with his three pointer (21%) and turnovers (12) this season, but it’s still early and he’s clearly not lacking in the effort department. On the positive side, he’s been an effective rebounder on the defensive end and is second on the team in blocked shots.
Then there’s the increasingly talked about five star point guard that’s seen significantly less time than anyone would have predicted going into the season. We’re going to get into the “what’s up with Quinerly” question next, but for now let’s stick to the minutes. He’s averaging just over 8 minutes per game if you count the DNP’s as zeros. After sitting out all of the Furman game, Quinerly played 15 minutes against Canisius when both Gillespie and Booth got into foul trouble. He then got a few throw away minutes against OK State before again sitting for all of Florida State. There’s a lot to unpack here, but for now here’s my theory (again, just on the minutes in last week’s tournament).
The rumor wheel was working overtime when Jahvon sat against Furman. Putting all that aside, it’s not likely that a player goes from DNP straight into significant minutes as part of the game plan. And in a scenario in which you’re about to play three games in four days, you stick to the game plan unless something happens. Quinerly was available for all three games, and played when foul trouble called for it. But I don’t think he was a major factor in the initial game plan, which would explain why he sat. That isn’t to say that Wright doesn’t have plans for him in the rotation, in fact, let’s get into that now.
Why isn’t Jahvon Quinerly playing more minutes?
Answer: The team wasn’t ready yet.
I’ll start by saying that I don’t have any insider information that I’m breaking here. This is pure speculation based on what is probably far too much time thinking and talking about Villanova basketball. But when I break down what we’ve seen from Quinerly and the rest of the team, I think the picture is starting to come together and I have a theory on where the Jahvon Quinerly story is headed.
First, let’s throw all the rumors out the window. Injuries, insubordination, egos, and transferring, I haven’t seen any proof that anything we read on twitter is actually true. A lot of assumptions are being presented as fact, and I’m going to say up front that I don’t have a shred of evidence to any of it. What I do have are statistics, and so far they haven’t been pretty.
Quinerly is currently dead last on the team in field goal percentage at 31.8%. While he has the fewest minutes percentage of anyone that’s played more than 10 minutes in a game (20.7%), he has the highest usage rate per possession of anyone on the team (28.2%). In other words, when he does get into the game he’s holding onto the ball and either shooting or turning it over. In fact, per 100 possessions, he’s turning the ball over far more than anyone else on the team. He’s barely shooting better from deep than Samuels (21.4%), he’s dead last in rebounds, he has yet to record a steal, and he has the team’s worst offensive (74.8) and defensive (104.7) ratings. Bottom line, not the start anyone expected.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s been all bad. Quinerly has the best assist rate (23%) of anyone on the team. While the statistics are pretty bad overall, the optics haven’t been. It’s pretty clear that Quinerly is trying to figure out what does and doesn’t work at the college level, and one could argue that the quickest way for him to find out is with more playing time. But the counter to that argument is where my theory kicks in: it’s hard to figure out what works if nothing the team’s doing is working.
I’m not going to shock anyone by saying the team wasn’t very good through their first four games. Even when the team started 2-0, Jay Wright said the high scores were masking some serious issues on both ends of the court. That became blatantly obvious the following week when Nova dropped back to back games at home. Turnovers were (and still are) a huge issue, the defense couldn’t stop my grandmother, and the offense was struggling to hit shots or create assists.
Needless to say the whole team, including trusted seniors and players who were going to be relied on for consistency, were struggling with these issues. So how is a freshman that’s not polished but still skilled supposed to figure out what works? I don’t think Wright’s been bringing Quinerly along slowly because he wasn’t ready, I think it’s been because he needed to stabilize the team’s leaders first before he could work with the rest of the players.
Let’s be honest, it must be killing Jay Wright not to have a true point guard on the floor. Before the renaissance period at the wing, Villanova was known as “Guard U”. Wright would have three point guards out there if he could, we’ve seen him try! But we’ve also seen the remarkable job his staff has done with player development. In over 20 years of coaching, he seems to have a good handle on when and how to push players. He’s not afraid to start a three star freshman recruit, just like he’s not afraid to sit a five star recruit. The one time he’s tripped up in his career was when he tried to go away from his system and force players that may not have been ready onto the court because of what someone ranked them in high school.
The “Villanova Way” that fans have been happy to laud over the college basketball world isn’t about sitting and waiting your turn. It’s about applying core principals to your skill set, and figuring out how that fits into the structure of the team. For some it comes naturally, and they start right away like Arcidiacono, Brunson, Spellman, and now Bey. For others it takes time, like Cunningham, Anderson, Ochefu, Hart, Jenkins, Bridges, DiVincenzo, and now Quinerly.
The process isn’t on a set time table, and it can be accelerated due to team needs. Right now this team NEEDS another point guard. And now that the starters have had time to settle in and find some chemistry, other pieces can be integrated as well. I won’t be surprised if Quinerly sees his minutes increase, especially in these two weeks of Big 5 play. I’m sure Wright would like his rotation come March to be focused on seven or eight players, but right now he’s still figuring out who that will be. A lot can change in three months, and my guess is Quinerly is going to get his opportunity to shine sooner rather than later. But opportunity is one thing, seizing it is another.