Fresh off another National Championship, the Villanova Wildcats are being serenaded as the best program in the country. You’d be pretty stupid to argue otherwise. But that label is now based on past success, even though a 5-year window is a pretty big sample size.
Where the program goes from here is the next big question. Jay Wright has it absolutely rolling and the train doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon. Here are the major reasons to be confident that Villanova will once again be among the nation’s elite.
The core rotation is back, but big NBA decisions loom
It’s a foregone conclusion that at the very least, fans have seen the last of stars Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges in the Blue & White. That’s roughly half the Wildcats offensive usage.
The big unknowns are now Omari Spellman and Donte DiVincenzo. Both had stellar NCAA Tournaments to finish the season on a high note, and presumably send their stock higher. Both players would be smart to test the NBA Draft and get feedback at the very least. Spellman morethan DiVincenzo seems to be getting the NBA love right now, but I think both will be back. At least pre-Combine.
In addition to O-Boogie and The Big Ragu, Eric Paschall and Phil Booth were both double-digit scorers this year and all four has shown the willingness to step up and be ‘the man.’ Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree proved their capability as rotation players, and former Top-50 recruit Jermaine Samuels is chomping at the bit to get in on the action.
Oh, and the redshirt comes off Dylan Painter. That’s six rotation players back, and two more with game experience. That’s a big reason why KenPom has Villanova ranked 3rd heading into the 2019 season and several media outlets have the ‘Cats solidly in the Top-5.
Growing pains should be expected, but this is a starting point most coaches dream of.
This is the best incoming freshman class since 2010 for Jay Wright
Yes, that group didn’t fare so well. But 2016’s National Championship gave Wright the typical recruiting bump that fans look for, and now he has three Top-50 players coming to campus in the fall.
5-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly should help ease the burden of losing Brunson. He’s an elite offensive playmaker that should thrive running Villanova’s system. We won’t see the post-up anytime soon from him, but his ISO skills and ability in the PnR should generate some fireworks immediately.
Replacing Bridges’ output is a tougher assignment because of how unique he is. In wings Brandon Slater and Cole Swider, Wright has some skillset overlap with his departing lottery pick. Swider is considered by some to be the best shooter in the class, while Slater is the type of long and versatile athlete that Wright adores on the wing. Those skills should help these two push for playing time immediately.
Who’s the next Villanova star?
Other than roster continuity, a key reason that Villanova has been on a historic tear of winning has been the emergence of upperclassmen into bonafide stars. The minimal dropoff (you could even argue improvement) from Hilliard to Hart to Bridges is flat-out outrageous.
Between Quinerly, Gillespie and Booth there should be enough in the backcourt to keep things steady in the absence of Brunson. But who steps up to take on the alpha dog role?
If Spellman returns, he’ll certainly be the focal point for most team’s scouting report due to the mismatches he can cause. But both Paschall and DiVincenzo showed that they can step up and takeover a game as well.
And the best part is, it doesn’t have to be just one of them. A 3-headed monster on the back of the Brunson-Bridges partnership is enticing.
If it all comes together, there’s no reason to expect the Golden Age of Villanova Basketball to slow down.