Over the next few days, we will be previewing the Villanova Wildcats’ 2019-20 basketball schedule. We’ll start off with the first half of the non-conference slate, looking at the Army Black Knights, Ohio State Buckeyes, and the different teams in the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
Army Black Knights
Head Coach: Jimmy Allen (4th season)
Previous Season Record: 13-19, 8-10 Patriot League -- Lost to Lehigh in Patriot League quarterfinals
Key Players: #14 Matt Wilson (6-9, 245) Sr. F/C; #3 Tommy Funk (5-11, 190) Sr. G
Key Departures: Jordan Fox, John Emezie
Outlook: The Black Knights like to roll deep on the court, rotating in 11 or 12 different players into a game. They do like to build around the core tandem of Matt Wilson and Tommy Funk, their top performers from last season, who are back for their senior encore. Wilson, a 6-foot-9 big man, is a traditional type of frontcourt player, looking to bully his way inside and anchor the post. He averaged a team-high 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds and shot 58.6 percent on the floor. As for Funk, he’s a solid point guard that excels at setting up his teammates but can also call his own number and comfortably score from anywhere on the floor. It’ll be an Archbishop Wood reunion, when Funk and Collin Gillespie face off on the court. Gillespie took over the reins at point guard once Funk graduated, and they’ll clash for the first time since then. Funk averaged 12.6 points and was top 25 in the country when it came to his 5.9 assists per game.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Head Coach: Chris Holtmann (3rd season)
Previous Season Record: 20-15, 8-12 in the Big Ten -- Lost to Michigan State in Big Ten quarterfinals; lost to Houston in Round of 32 of NCAA Tournament
Key Players: #34 Kaleb Wesson (6-9, 270) Jr., F; #24 Andre Wesson (6-6, 220) Sr., F; #3 D.J. Carton (6-2, 190) Fr., G; #32 E.J. Liddell (6-6, 236) Fr. F
Key Departures: C.J. Jackson, Keyshawn Woods
Outlook: Jay Wright and Chris Holtmann will meet for the first time since Holtmann was at Butler and his Bulldogs were able to sweep the regular season series with the ‘Cats. Since then, Holtmann had a promising first season with the Buckeyes and followed it up with a bit of a step back. The 2018-19 season was by no means a failure, but last season’s 12-1 hot start for Ohio State was quickly halted with struggles in conference play, before the Buckeyes regrouped and made it back to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Despite the obstacles, Ohio State still remained a top 25 team in regards to its defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. This year, the Buckeyes have their top player back, Kaleb Wesson. The 6-foot-9 stretch big led the Buckeyes with 14.6 points per game and 6.9 boards per game. His brother, Andre, should see a bigger role this season, likely upgrading from a sixth man role to a possible starting spot. Outside of the Wessons, the Buckeyes bring in a promising freshmen class that includes three four-star, top 50 recruits--D.J. Carton, E.J. Liddell, and Alonzo Gaffney--players that should see a lot of early playing time.
Head Coach: Jeff Boals (1st season)
Previous Season Record: 14-17, 6-12 MAC -- Lost to Northern Illinois in opening round of MAC Tournament
Key Players: #5 Ben Vander Plas (6-8, 232) So., F; #0 Jason Preston (6-4, 187) So. G
Key Departures: Jason Carter, Teyvion Kirk, Doug Taylor, Gavin Block
Outlook: Jeff Boals will look to revitalize a Ohio team that struggled offensively last season, falling near the bottom in the nation in a number of different team offense categories. It’s going to be hard to do so, when the only source of production is no longer on the team. The Bobcats simply relied on Jason Carter (Xavier) and Teyvion Kirk (Colorado State), and both of those players have since transferred out. They accounted for almost half of the team’s points last season and were the only two to average in double figures. The identity of this team is unclear, and that’s something Boals will be working out early on. Ben Vander Plas and Jason Preston are the only two that saw a tremendous amount of playing time from last season, with Connor Murrell once in a while cracking the short 6-7 man rotation. The Bobcats are also bringing in six freshmen, with three-star prospects Ben Roderick and Marvin Price as the leading men and likely candidates for early playing time. This is a completely different squad from last year, with a different dynamic, and it’s hard to predict what the Bobcats will exactly look like, but you’d have to imagine that the returners and some freshmen get a lot of responsibilities early on.
Myrtle Beach Invitational
From Nov. 21-24, the Wildcats will head south for the Myrtle Beach Invitational. Villanova will be joined by Middle Tennessee, Mississippi State, Tulane, Ohio, Baylor, Utah, Coastal Carolina. The event originally also featured the Memphis Tigers, but they have since dropped out and postponed their participation until the 2020-21 season instead. (Ducking the ‘Cats?) Here’s a quick dive into each of the teams.
Game 1: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
The Blue Raiders have their core trio from last season’s 11-21 finish. Upperclassmen Antonio Green, Donovan Sims, and Reggie Scurry accounted for over half of Middle Tennessee State’s scoring production last season, with Green leading the way. Green averaged a team-high 17.9 points per game. He’s a bit of a volume scorer and somewhat inefficient, but there’s no denying that he can get buckets and heat up when he needs to. He can score from anywhere and is a bit of a streaky shooter, but he’s dangerous when he’s on. This trio will likely carry Middle Tennessee State again, and while they lead the scoring load, it does come at a cost. They turn the ball over a lot, and as a team, they coughed it up on 22.8 percent of their possessions. Aside from that, they’re not efficient, falling in the nation’s bottom 75 in nearly every single team offense category.
Game 2: Mississippi State OR Tulane
Mississippi State: Ben Howland has got the Bulldogs going as of late, and they’ll try to reach even new heights this season. Last year ended in disappointment for them, as the fifth-seeded Bulldogs were bounced out of the NCAA Tournament in an upset loss to No. 12-seed Liberty. The Bulldogs did graduate their top player in Quinndary Weatherspoon, who averaged 18.5 points and was a scoring machine from anywhere on the floor, and they did bid farewell to another key player in Lamar Peters. However, Mississippi State is expecting Reggie Perry to take a huge step up. He was one of the best freshmen in the SEC last season and enjoyed an offseason that included Most Valuable Player honors in the FIBA U-19 World Cup. Also, keep an eye out for Tyson Carter. Nick Weatherspoon’s absence may also hurt this team early on. He is also expected to take a huge step up this season, but will be suspended for the first 10 games of the year due to a violation of team rules.
Tulane: The Green Wave will probably wish that it still had Caleb Daniels this season, but it’s looking forward to a rebuild under Ron Hunter, of Georgia State fame. Tulane has ushered in Hunter after an ugly 4-27 season that included a winless performance in conference play. Like Ohio, the Green Wave also saw a mass exodus after a coaching change and a tough losing season. Tulane no longer has its top-four performers from last season, with sophomore Kevin Zhang as the top returner. Zhang appeared in 30 games, averaging 6.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and shot 35.4 percent overall and an even worse 29.5 percent from long range. It’s safe to say Tulane might need some time, and will be experimenting early on to find its identity.
Game 3: Ohio OR Baylor OR Utah OR Coastal Carolina
Ohio: There’s a chance, depending on how the tournament unfolds, that ‘Nova meets the Bobcats again. See the earlier section on Ohio regarding the team’s outlook.
Baylor: The Bears might be losing their driving force in Makai Mason, who made a great impact in his one season as a graduate transfer, but the Bears don’t have any shortage of experience. Baylor has a half-dozen players that played in at least 25 games last season, and they still have Jared Butler, a guard that helped form a solid core last season. Head coach Scott Drew has had success with the transfer market in the past, and will be debuting Davion Mitchell (Auburn) and Macio Teague (UNC Asheville) after they sat out last season. Baylor’s ceiling will depend on the return and health of 6-10 forward Tristan Clark, who had his 2018-19 season cut short by season-ending knee surgery. Until then, he was a menace in the paint, averaging over 14 points per game and converting on a highly-efficient 73.7 percent of shots. Baylor managed to stay afloat after his injury, finishing 20-14 with an opening round victory over Syracuse in the NCAA Tournament. The Bears may be poised to return to the tournament and have a better season overall if Clark is able to return to form, or exceed it.
Utah: The Utes will look to replace Sedrick Barefield, other graduates and a couple of other outbound transfers from their 17-14 finish a year ago. 6-foot-6 wing Timmy Allen is the only returning starter from last season. Allen averaged 12.2 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Utes. Mainly a slashing and interior threat, he shot 57.5 percent on the floor. Riley Battin and Both Gach will have to step up for the Utes, after mostly playing off the bench last season. Barefield’s graduation is a tough for Utah, as it will look elsewhere for that go-to scorer.
Coastal Carolina: The Chanticleers will turn to their battle-tested Devante Jones and Tyrell Gumbs-Frater to lead the way, their top returners from a 17-17 campaign one year ago. While they may pick up the slack after the graduation of top scorer Zac Cuthbertson, the Chanticleers will need to emphasize rebounding or finding someone that can clean up the glass. Cuthbertson was a do-it-all type player for Coastal Carolina. With him gone, Coastal Carolina wasn’t particularly a great rebounding team to begin with--and Cuthbertson helped mask that with his 8.1 boards per game--but that can be an even greater weakness this season. Jones and Gumbs-Frater should be able to fill in the scoring punch, but rebounding, minimizing turnovers and interior defense will be three key areas the Chanticleers will try to improve upon this season.