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Villanova’s “lack of experience” next season is fake news

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It’s time to shift the narrative from who the Wildcats lost to who is coming back.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-East Regional-Villanova vs Texas Tech Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The wait is finally over. After two months of “will they, won’t they” with Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, both former Wildcats have decided to remain in the NBA draft. While we wish them the best of luck at the next level, their departure has seemingly cemented a narrative that’s been growing for weeks: Villanova is losing A LOT.

It’s not untrue. The Wildcats are losing their top four scorers who accounted for over 70% of the team’s points en route to a third National Championship. That includes the national player of the year, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, an NBA lottery pick, and the Big East rookie of the year. So yes, Villanova is losing a lot.

The problem I have is that assumptions are being made off of that narrative that simply aren’t true. I’ve heard that the Wildcats will drop out of the Top 25 to start next season, the Big East is wide open for the top eight teams, and even that next year’s starting five will be similar to the 2011-12 season that finished the year under .500.

Ok, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned that last one. Everyone catch their breath, pick up the pieces of your shattered coffee mug, and let’s move on.

The issue with these statements is that they’re falling into the trap of focusing on what Villanova lost from possibly the greatest team in school history. No one is expecting next year’s team to be able to repeat or even come close to duplicating their record breaking accomplishments. Instead, the focus should be on who the Wildcats are returning and how they compare to the rest of the college basketball world. No other team is defending champions, no other team has the winning percentage Villanova has had, and no other team has Jay Wright coaching them. I’d say those are all significant advantages.

But the one criticism that stuck out as fair was the lack of experience Villanova would have next season. The four players that left the program had an average of three years at the college level (including redshirt seasons), and that’s a lot of experience to walk out the door. However, this is just another case of looking at what is lost and not what is there. When you crunch the numbers, it turns out that next year’s team will be even more experienced than the 2018 National Champions.

Experience is driving Villanova’s “Golden Age”

Since the season that shall not be named, Jay Wright has put together talented teams with a great blend of young players and experienced veterans. The result has been the greatest six year run in the history of the program. During that span, Villanova has averaged an incredible 30 wins per season. And one of the keys to that success has been maintaining the level of experience on the team.

I went back over the last seven seasons as well as the upcoming one and put together the “experience level” each team had to start their season. This was calculated by adding up the total number of seasons the scholarship players had gone through (including redshirt seasons), and dividing by the number of active scholarship players on the team that season. Anyone who was redshirted or injured for most of the season was removed from the equation for that year. For example, a redshirt sophomore would come into the season with two years of experience, the same as a junior. Here are the results:

Villanova’s Average Experience from 2012-2019

Season Active Scholarship Players Total Prior Years Exp. Prior Exp. Per Player Record
Season Active Scholarship Players Total Prior Years Exp. Prior Exp. Per Player Record
2011-12 10 10 1.0 13-19
2012-13 10 14 1.4 20-14
2013-14 10 15 1.5 29-5
2014-15 9 17 1.9 33-3
2015-16 8 14 1.8 35-5
2016-17 8 15 1.9 32-4
2017-18 10 16 1.6 36-4
2018-19 11 19 1.7 ???

A few things stick out right away. First, over their current run Villanova hasn’t had fewer than 30 wins in a season when averaging over 1.5 years of experience per player. Another interesting trend is the level of success the team has had over the past four years when they had one or more players redshirting, although that probably has a lot more to do with the personnel on the court.

But the number that initially shocked me was that next season’s average experience per player will actually be higher than this past year’s team. Knowing that the four players leaving were carrying a combined 12 years of experience with them out the door, I thought this must be a mistake. But I ran the numbers again and there it was, next season Villanova will be a more experienced team.

Different players, similar experience levels

When you start to break down the numbers, it makes more sense where the experience is coming from. While next year’s team would technically have the most experience of any team in the eight year run, they’ll also have the most active scholarship players.

Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, the two returning starters from last year’s team, are each redshirt seniors that bring four years experience a piece to the table. Incoming grad transfer Joe Cremo brings in another three seasons, and will be eligible to play immediately. If there’s any argument for a flaw in the system, it’s the three years credited to Tim Delaney. While Delaney has put in the time with the Wildcats and can be an asset in the locker room and on the sidelines, his injuries will keep him from parlaying that experience into production on the floor. After that, redshirt sophomore Dylan Painter adds two more years while fellow sophomores Colin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, and Jermaine Samuels add another year each. The three incoming freshman obviously have zero collegiate experience, although they do count towards the player count.

Overall next year’s team may technically have more experience, but the starting lineups will surely would favor the 2018 Champs, right? While last year’s “starting 6” may have been more talented and featured more NBA prospects, they were about the same experience level that we’ll see on the court next season. Without having any seniors, last year’s key pieces featured four upperclassmen, a freshman, and an energetic sophomore off the bench. Next season’s top six players will likely feature three upperclassmen, a freshman, and two more energetic sophomores. It’s not exactly a like for like but experience matters, especially between the freshman and sophomore seasons when we’ve typically seen Villanova players make significant improvements.

Will there be a redshirt?

The other big question the data brings up is if there will be another redshirt this upcoming season. As of now Villanova will have 11 active scholarship players for the first time since the 2009-10 season. It would also be the first time in five seasons that the Wildcats didn’t redshirt a player. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that either of those trends will continue.

Of the seven redshirts over the past four seasons, only three of them were planned. Mikal Bridges was held out of his first season to bulk up, Eric Paschall had to sit out the 2016 season after his transfer, and Dylan Painter was held out last year to help his development. Donte DiVincenzo, Tim Delaney, Phil Booth, and Omari Spellman all had unexpected redshirt seasons, which would have increased the number of active scholarship players each season. In fact, if Phil Booth, Omari Spellman, and Tim Delaney had all played a full season in 2017, Jay Wright would have had 11 active players. That doesn’t mean all of them would have been active in the rotation, but it shows that Wright has recently planned to manage a team with more than 10 scholarship players.

But for the sake of argument, if the coach did decide to sit one of his guys this season the list of possibilities isn’t very long. Booth, Paschall, Delaney, and Painter have all redshirted already in their careers. Gillespie and DCR can also be ruled out after being consistent role players throughout last season. Cremo is unlikely as a grad transfer, and Quinerly will probably have to remain active as the team will need the depth at point guard. That leaves Jermaine Samuels, Brandon Slater, and Cole Swider.

A closer look at those three doesn’t really present any strong candidates for a redshirt. Jermaine Samuels spent a good portion of last season acclimating to the speed of the college game and recovering from a broken hand. While he only averaged 3 minutes per game over the final month, his effort and athleticism were apparent and he should be ready to contribute as a sophomore.

The two freshmen present slightly better cases for redshirt, but there still isn’t a clear option. Brandon Slater comes in with a body ready for the rigors of the college game, and the departures of Bridges and DiVincenzo open up opportunities at the wing position. Cole Swider comes in needing some work on the defensive end, but may end up being one of the most polished three point shooters on the team. Considering that Villanova just lost their top four three point shooters, he may be an invaluable piece of the rotation.

So if a redshirt is unlikely in 2018-19, this team would be the most experienced group Jay Wright has coached in a while. Even when only looking at the upperclassman, the 2019 team is right on par with what we’ve seen at Villanova. Only in the 2015 and 2016 seasons have Wright’s teams had more than 4 juniors and seniors on scholarship since 2010, and next year’s team will feature 3 seniors and a junior.

No one is denying that there’s a lot of talent jumping to the next level. But the players that will wear the blue and white next season will have the experience to continue the high level of excellence the fan base has become accustomed to.