Let’s start here: I’m not saying these things WILL happen. I’m not even saying that they’re likely to happen. But I am saying they could happen, and that’s what the preseason is all about. Trying to figure out what’s possible before reality sets in and we throw everything else out the window.
Below are my BOLD predictions for the upcoming season. You likely won’t agree with most of them, or even half of them... maybe just one of them. However, there’s no denying that everything you’re about to read has a non-zero chance of happening. And trust me, if all of this comes true, this is going to be one hell of a season.
Last year I went 7-9 on the bold predictions, coming oh-so close to the ever elusive .500 season. Could this be the year it happens? With three team predictions and another 12 for the players, it means I’m going to have to get 8 of these right. Let’s make it happen Nova Nation!
1) Three or more Wildcats will shoot over 40% from beyond the arc
Since Jay Wright took over as the head coach at Villanova, the ‘Cats have had three or more scholarship players shoot over 40% from deep just three times: 2002, 2006, and 2018. In 2018 Mikal Bridges (43.5%), Omari Spellman (43.3%), Jalen Brunson (40.8%), and Donte DiVincenzo (40.1%) led the Wildcats to making the most threes in NCAA history. And of course, a National Championship.
The Championship may be a long shot this year, but having a strong group of shooters is very much a possibility. Gillespie and Bey shot over 37% last season, making it a matter of shot selection to jump up to 40%. Swider has the talent to do it, but needs to add consistency. And the freshman trio of Bryan Antoine, Justin Moore, and Chris Arcidiacono are all solid shooters from the outside. You can even throw in Jermaine Samuels as a candidate after he shot 40% from deep over Villanova’s final six games last season.
The talent is there for the Wildcats to be deadly from deep this season. The question is whether or not they can overcome their lack of experience in order to do it.
2) Villanova will win more games in the NCAA Tournament than the Big East Tournament
Big East Tournament games in the Garden have a special energy to them. They’re tough to win as it’s the third game against every team you face. But the Garden is a special place for Villanova as well, a home away from home if you will. And guess where the Eastern Regional Final of the NCAA Tournament will be played this season. That’s right, Madison Square Garden. It’s no guarantee that Nova would play in the East or that they make the second round of the tournament, but it would certainly be a huge advantage if it worked out that way for the Wildcats.
And yes, I realize that if Nova wins the Big East Tournament that I’m predicting a Final Four run.
3) Jay Wright will win his 7th Big East Coach of the Year
Wright will be coaching from a position he hasn’t been in for a long time. Not only is this his youngest team ever at Villanova, but for the first time in what feels like forever his Wildcats weren’t ranked #1 in the Preseason Big East Coach’s Poll. So what do you do if the conference’s best coach overcomes these obstacles and wins his 7th Big East Championship in convincing fashion? You hand that man another coach of the year award.
4) Collin Gillespie will finish #1 in steals and assists, but not turnovers
It may surprise you to know that Gillespie actually led the Wildcats in steals last season, so saying he’d do it again isn’t that far of a stretch. But throw in leading the team in assists as well as protecting the rock as the lead ball handler, that’s asking a lot. To put that into perspective, Phil Booth, Jalen Brunson, Ryan Arcidiacono, Maalik Wayns, and Scottie Reynolds all led Villanova in turnovers during the first season they led the team in assists under Jay Wright. The only guard to finish #1 in steals and but not turnovers in their first year leading the team in assists was Kyle Lowry in 2006. Fourteen years later, Gillespie is going to become just the second Jay Wright guard to do it.
5) Jermaine Samuels will record four double-doubles
They say the third time is the charm, so I’m sticking with my third consecutive season of betting that Samuels puts his first career double-doubles on the board. In fact, to make up for the last two seasons I’m doubling the double-double prediction and saying he gets four of them this year. His freshman season got derailed with the broken hand. He still didn’t record a double-double in his sophomore year, but he came just one rebound or one basket shy of that goal in three games last season. So this is the year. Not only will he get his first double-double, but he’ll finally prove me right and get four of them.
6) Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will lead the Big East in OR%
Last season Cosby-Roundtree had one of the most efficient offensive rebounding seasons in the Jay Wright era. He has been a beast on the offensive glass, which is important for a team that launches as many threes as the Wildcats do. While he hasn’t quite been able to consistently turn those boards into his own offense, procuring extra possessions for the Wildcats led him to ranking 21st in the country last season in Offensive Rebounding Efficiency.
This year I’m projecting he goes beyond leading the Wildcats and leads the entire Big East. To do it, he’ll have to overcome the returning Big East OR% leader in Xavier’s Tyrique Jones. Jones finished 3rd in the country last year in OR%, and returns for his senior season with the Musketeers. Cosby-Roundtree will have his work cut out for him, but I believe he’s up to the challenge.
7) Saddiq Bey will lead Villanova in scoring
While Saddiq Bey had an impressive freshman season, he averaged just 8.2 points per game. That was a far cry from Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, who each more than doubled Bey’s production as the team’s leading scorers. But Bey has clearly taken a step up this offseason, not just in his own offensive abilities but in the minds of the coaching staff as well. Yes, he’d have to outperform the team’s highest returning scorer (Collin Gillespie, 10.9 PPG) and two freshmen projected to be selected in the NBA Draft next spring (Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl). But now is not the time to start doubting last year’s breakout rookie.
8) Cole Swider will break the school’s single game three-point record
Last year and this season Cole Swider has looked like a streaky shooter. He hasn’t been nearly as consistent as we saw him be in high school, and we’re still waiting on the “next great Villanova sharp-shooter” hype to come to fruition. However, when his confidence is high and he lets loose, the basket might as well be as big as a kiddie pool. When he’s in the zone he can pour in the baskets from deep, and this season his teammates will be looking to feed him the ball when he’s on. The school record of 8 made threes in a game is shared by Allen Ray (2005), Darrun Hilliard (2015), and Kris Jenkins (2016). Swider may not reach the career numbers of those three, but on a single night he has the talent to shine just as bright.
9) Brandon Slater will have the most combined steals and blocks
The long and lanky Slater is going to have a role on this team. We haven’t seen the offense outside of a flash here and there, but his length makes him a versatile defender that Wright will utilize this season. When switching out offense and defense at the end of a half, Slater will be the first defender off the bench. I’m expecting his stats to bare that out, and his ability to shut down passing lanes and alter shots is going to keep him on the court when Villanova needs stops.
10) Jeremiah Robinson-Earl will break Villanova’s Freshman FG% Record
In the 1981-82 season, Ed Pinckney shot 64% from the field in his rookie campaign. That set the school record for FG% by a freshman (minimum 200 attempts), and it’s stood for over 35 years. That could change this year as Robinson-Earl has an incredibly polished offense for a freshman big man. Just how good has the rookie been in the preseason? Jay Wright compared him to Jalen Brunson in terms of how prepared he is coming into his first season. That’s about as high as praise can get. Given his 10 for 15 (66.7%) performance against one of the better front courts in the country at USC, this lofty goal could be attainable for the potential one-and-done candidate.
11) Bryan Antoine will finish Top 3 for Villanova in PPG during Big East play
It’s probably impossible for Antoine to catch up to the team’s point leaders after missing at least a month of play to start the year. But the timetable has him back in the lineup and 100% healthy by the start of Big East play. He’ll still be playing catchup and trying to make up for lost time, but he’s such a natural scorer that he can absolutely explode once given the opportunity. That opportunity should come in Big East play, and by the end of the regular season it’s very possible that he’s not only starting for the Wildcats, but also one of their most reliable scorers.
12) Justin Moore will win MVP of the Myrtle Beach Invitational
For the past couple of seasons, Villanova seems to do two something most other teams can’t: Win tournaments with an epic performance from an unexpected player. The most memorable performances are of course Phil Booth in 2016 and Donte DiVicnenzo in 2018, both in the National Championship. But the stakes don’t always have to be that big.
Last season, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree came seemingly out of nowhere to average a double-double and win MVP of the AdvoCare Invitational. This year in South Carolina, I’m projecting Justin Moore to come off the bench and be a HUGE contributor. In fact, don’t be surprised if that role continues throughout the entire season for the dynamic freshman.
13) Eric Dixon will have a double-double this season
I’m doubling up on the double-double prediction, but this time for a different reason. With Samuels, it’s pure stubbornness. But for Dixon, he may only get one shot at this kind of opportunity. If the USC game was any indication, Dixon isn’t looking like he’ll be a big part of the rotation early on. However he’ll have time to earn minutes, or if there’s an injury (heaven forbid) he could get a shot to flash his skill set. He certainly has the talent both as a scorer and on the boards, but he likely needs to put things together with conditioning and picking up schemes. At the Blue/White Scrimmage, I wondered how Jay was going to keep this guy off the court. I’ll trust my gut and say that at some point he’ll not only get his chance, but he’ll make the most of it.
14) Chris Arcidiacono will lead the Wildcats in free-throw %
Chris Arcidiacono is never going to be the best athlete on the floor, the most talented, or the primary option for the Wildcats. But every time the Arcidiacono the 2nd (3rd if we count Gillespie) walks onto the court, two things will be true: he’s going to out work you, and he can shoot. Where do relentless work effort and shooting ability intersect? The free throw line. He won’t be making the most trips to the line, and his minutes (and games) will likely be limited. But there’s absolutely a world in which he’s the teams most efficient player from the charity stripe.
15) The Bench Mob will appear in fewer than three games
Last year my prediction was that the Bench mob would appear in no more than five games, and they only appeared in three. This season, I’m taking it a step further and guessing we won’t see the bench mob in more than two games. For those of you who think that claim may not be bold enough, Wright has only used his walk-ons in fewer than three games once in his 18 seasons at Villanova.
There are just too many young guys that need game experience, and there’s a good chance that none of them red shirt. You wish you could reward these guys that do so much work for so little credit, but this is what they signed up for. Nova fans will just have to trust that the bench mob knows how much they’re appreciated.