VUHoops is kicking off its ramp-up to Villanova Basketball’s 100th Season with Ten Top 10 lists. We’ll cover everything you love about Villanova basketball from 1920 to 2020. Be sure to check out all ten of our lists, and check back over the coming weeks as we begin the celebration of 100 years of Villanova Basketball!
Villanova Basketball officially starts practice today, and with that comes the start of preseason. It’s a fun time for fans because every season starts with so much promise. It’s the “mystery of the unknown” if you will that allows for both optimism and uncertainty depending on who you ask. So naturally, this is when fans are asking a ton of questions as to what they can expect from this year’s team.
Today, we’re going to take those questions and whittle them down to a Top 10. We may not be able to answer them all, but we can at least supply some context and opinion. Here are your Top 10 questions for Villanova Basketball’s 2019-2020 season.
10) How many new suits will Jay Wright debut this season?
It many not be the top question heading into the 2020 season, but it’s certainly an important one. Wright has a number of trademarks on the court, and his wardrobe is certainly one of them. It’s the 100th season of Villanova Basketball, so certainly there’s cause to celebrate and break out something really fancy. Maybe Wright goes to the next level and just comes out in a full tuxedo. The possibilities are limitless, but I’ll put the over/under at 3 new suits.
Will Jay Wright debut over/under 3 new suits this season?
This poll is closed
Over (4 or more)
Push (3 exactly)
Under (2 or fewer)
9) Will Villanova take more threes in 2020 than they did in 2019?
The Wildcats averaged over 30 three-point attempts per game, the most in team history. That’s even more than they attempted in 2018 when they broke the NCAA records for most threes made in a season, in an NCAA Tournament, and in a Final Four game. So could they do the unthinkable and attempt more threes this season?
The short answer is they could, but they won’t. The “could” is the easy part, they just have to replace the nearly 18 threes per game from Eric Paschall, Phil Booth, Joe Cremo, and Jahvon Quinerly. You figure that Gillespie can add one per game (he was already taking 5.6), and Samuels and Bey should see a significant increase to the tune of plus six between them. You can add one onto Swider and Slater each as well. As for the freshmen, the sharp shooting Antoine is good for five attempts a game, and we can probably pencil Robinson-Earl and Moore in for two each. So it’s not crazy to imagine it could happen.
The difference is that this year’s team is going to have a lot more players who can score in the paint. I wouldn’t be surprise if we do see a dip in three point shooting due to players like Robinson-Earl posting up, or guys like Samuels, Bey, and Slater becoming more effective at driving the lane. That said, a dip for Villanova will likely still put them as one of the most three point happy teams in the NCAA. Shoot ‘em up, sleep in the streets!
8) Is this team already overrated by being ranked in the Top 10?
This is a much more complicated question to answer, and it all depends on the factors we’re taking into consideration. But it stems from the fact that most preseason rankings have Villanova ranked anywhere from #5 to #15, but most have them in the Top 10. This begs the question, is Villanova a Top 10 team? It’s a long season, so let’s ask that question at three points in time: Season opener, Big East opener, and start of NCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats might be ranked in the Top 10 when they open against Army on November 5th. And they’ll certainly have Top 10 talent on the team, which is why they’ll get that ranking. But you’re not going to think you’re watching a Top 10 team when you tune in six weeks from now. That’s because this team will be VERY young, and young teams take some time to learn a new system and how to play together.
The good news is, the younger the team is, the more they can improve over the course of the season. By the time January rolls around Villanova will be 12 games into the season, and will certainly have hit some speed bumps along the way. Just like last year, I think it’s possible that Villanova could be out of the Top 10 when Big East play rolls around. But I also think they’ll be starting to look like a Top 10 team. And if you can look like a Top 10 team by January, you can make some noise in March.
So this is the long way to say no, just because Villanova may fall out of the Top 10 during the season doesn’t mean they’re overrated. Because if by the end of the year they’re ranked in the Top 10 and being considered for one of the protected Top 16 overall seeds in the tournament, then they’ll have proven that their preseason ranking wasn’t a fluke. I think they’re going to do just that.
7) Is the junior class ready to be team captains?
The last time Jay Wright was without a team captain that had been in the program for 4 years was 2012, and that team went 13-19. Not that the issues with that team could all be placed on the captains, but a lack of leadership was certainly one of the issues at play there.
The good news is that this class isn’t the 2012 group, not even close. That said, there is the question of how they will lead this very young team. I obviously can’t say for certain, but if I had to guess the answer would be, “Together.”
It starts with Collin Gillespie. Gillespie was a captain on last year’s team for two reasons. First, he earned it. Wright doesn’t just hand that out because it’s convenient, your teammates have to be willing to follow your lead. Sure, he played a smaller leadership role than Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, but he was still very much a leader. And second, he’s the point guard. He already leads the team on the court, which tends to make you a leader off it as well. For better or worse, this is Collin’s team now. The same way it was Jalen Brunson’s, and Ryan Arcidiacono’s before him. That doesn’t mean he has to be the leading scorer, but it does mean he has to lead.
The next most important player to this groups leadership is Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Last year, Wright and the players would all talk about how much they respected and appreciated Phil Booth. That’s how players, including Booth himself, talk about Cosby-Roundtree. He may not be the offensive threat that Booth was on the court, but off the court he’s the kind of guy the team will rally around. We’ve seen the passion and emotion he can play with, and it will be important for him to be someone who energizes this team when they need it.
And of course you have your “lead by example” candidate in Jermaine Samuels. Samuels started to break out in the second half of last season, and he’ll certainly be in position to be a star this season. But as a leader, he needs to star in practice just as much as he does in games. With so many young players, they need to see him put in just as much if not more work than the rest of the team. He’s gone from a player that looked lost to a guy Villanova would be lost without because of the work he’s put into learning the system and improving his skills. He can make the entire freshman class better just by continuing to work that hard.
6) How important is the sophomore class’s growth?
At the beginning of last season, Jay Wright said the key to this year would be how quickly they could get the sophomore class to play like juniors. It won’t shock me at all if we hear that same soundbite repeated back to us this season. The sophomore class may have been overlooked this offseason with all of the attention on the rising juniors and the incoming freshmen, but they could be what puts Villanova over the edge this season. That’s especially true if they each take a step up in their development.
Saddiq Bey wasn’t brought in to be a starter last year, but that’s exactly what he became. His drive and preparation was far above his fellow freshmen, and he quickly grew into a lynch-pin role for the 2019 team. A year later, he’s a candidate to be the breakout star of the 2020 team. He’s the perfect Villanova wing, skilled enough to be dangerous behind the arc and big enough to defend in the paint. His ability to move without the ball is well beyond that of a sophomore, and he has a knack for crashing the boards on defense. Don’t be surprised if you start seeing his name on NBA draft boards if he has the breakout season many pundits are calling for.
Cole Swider was starting to gain a foothold in the rotation last season before the dreaded curse of the Villanova broken hand struck again, sidelining him for seven weeks. When he returned we got a very small sample size of what he can do, but that did include 40% shooting from behind the arc and some good offensive moves on the interior. This season, the Wildcats need to see more from Swider on both ends of the court. His biggest weapon is his outside shot, and if he can be a consistent threat from deep he’ll really open things up as he draws larger defenders to the perimeter. But he was a dual edged sword in that sense last year as perimeter defense was a weakness in his game. If he can step up in both areas, he’ll be locked into solid rotation minutes with this team.
Then there’s last year’s forgotten man, Brandon Slater. Slater reportedly had some type of injury/illness that had him out for a few weeks of practice in the preseason in 2019. That left him behind the learning curve and out of the rotation for most of the year. He usually played just five minutes or less in the games he got in, but stayed on the bench for more than half of Villanova’s games. But word on the street is that he’s been working hard with Coach Shack, and that he’s taken a step up offensively this offseason. If that’s the case, he has the skills and ability to be a real threat off the dribble and has shown a knack for slashing to the basket. Getting into the rotation will be a big plus for Slater, and he’s my dark-horse candidate for most improved player this season.
5) How deep will Jay Wright’s rotation be?
Villanova will have eleven active players on the roster this year, but Jay Wright certainly isn’t going to be running them all out there in hockey shifts. Let’s say we define the “rotation” as players with 10+ minutes a game. In that case, with one or two exceptions, Wright has used an eight man rotation for most of the past decade. The two times he’s gone above that mark were with very young teams, so it’s not out of the question he could run with a nine or ten man rotation early in the season while they’re still figuring things out. But it’s a solid bet that when March rolls around, there will be just eight (maybe nine) guys playing the majority of minutes for the Wildcats.
4) Will anyone redshirt or transfer this year?
These are two different questions, so I’ll take them one at a time. First, let’s be clear on the rules around red shirting:
1. Red Shirts (medical or otherwise) are applied at the end of the season, they do not have to be determined ahead of time.
2. If a player checks into any game for any amount of time, they will not be eligible for a (normal) redshirt.
3. Players must have a REAL INJURY to be eligible for a medical redshirt. They also must meet the following critea:
- The injury must occur before the first game of the second half of the team’s season. If the team plays an odd number of games, the exact midseason game is considered in the second half of the season. Post season tournaments do count toward the team’s total number of games.
- The player cannot have completed in more than 30% of their team’s games. That’s 30% of the total number of games, and then rounded up if there is a fraction.
- Bonus fun fact: Medical red shirts are handled by the team’s conference, and only handled by the NCAA if the team is not in a conference.
So with the particulars out of the way, let’s get into if a redshirt will actually happen. Odds are it won’t because Wright will need to see this guys competing to figure out the rotation, and all of them are talented enough to get some time. If I had to pick a player to redshirt it would be Chris Arcidiacono, but given the depth at guard I think the team will need him to play some minutes this season even if he doesn’t become a regular in the rotation.
As for the transfer question, that’s another matter entirely. Part of that comes down to the who does, or more importantly doesn’t make the rotation. In my mind there are seven players you can immediately rule out as locks to get some playing time: Gillespie, Samuels, Coby-Roundtree, Bey, Robinson-Earl, Antoine, and Moore. The juniors and Bey are already proven, Robinson-Earl and Antoine have too much talent to leave on the bench, and Moore is probably going to be the #2 option as a ball handler.
That leaves Swider, Slater, Dixon, and Arcidiacono as possible candidates. If Swider or Slater aren’t able to make the next step in their development this year, then maybe there’s a chance that they could decide to find playing time elsewhere. I’d like to be clear that everything I’m hearing is that they both have developed over the summer, but we’re playing the what if game. But even then, given the lack of recruiting prospects coming in the Class of 2020 I still don’t think they’d move on if the staff thinks they have room to grow and play for this team. Chris Arcidiacono I think is locked in no matter what. He had his opportunities to go elsewhere if he wanted playing time, but he waited for his shot to play at Villanova.
Eric Dixon is the only one who could see fewer minutes this season and may decide he wants to go elsewhere. But I can’t imagine Wright didn’t lay out a plan for him during his recruitment. Wright has made it a point to say that he makes sure players understand what the expectations are at Villanova and how they like to develop guys in their system. My guess is everyone is bought in, and no one’s leaving. At least not for another school.
3) How much time will Bryan Antoine miss to start the year?
During the offseason Antoine was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his right (shooting) shoulder, and underwent surgery to repair it on May 31st. While Villanova has not set a time table to his recovery, the general recovery period for this type of injury is 4 to 6 months. For those of you that don’t have a calendar handy, that puts us anywhere from next week to the end of November.
There haven’t been many updates other than what we’ve seen from posted pictures, videos, and reports from people seeing him on campus. He’s out of the sling, and he’s still been going to practices and workouts through the offseason. The question of course is what he’s been able to do in those practices. With teams now able to resume normal practice schedules, we should start getting a better idea of if Antoine will be ready to go to start the season.
But the bigger question really is will he be ready to start? He may very well be completely healed with a full range of motion by the time November 5th roles around, but he’ll still have missed several weeks of working with the team, skill training, and workouts. I have no doubt that Antoine will play a pivotal role for Villanova this year, but I also won’t be surprised if the coaching staff eases him in out of the gate to make up for lost time. My guess, he plays against Army but doesn’t start.
2) Who are the starters at the beginning and end of the season?
Just about everyone thinks that the locks are the three returning starters from last year: Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Saddiq Bey. I’m also going to go ahead and lock in Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who just seems too good to come off the bench at any point this season. That leaves us with one spot remaining and just two candidates for the job.
I just said that I think Antoine starts the year as the first man off the bench, although that could change if he gets a full 6 weeks of practice in between now and the Army game. But for arguments sake let’s say they do take things slow with him. Assuming he stays healthy throughout the season and his talent translates to the college game, he’s going to crack the starting lineup eventually. I’d go as far as to say it’s a given he’s starting with the above mentioned four well before the end of the season.
That leaves Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree to begin the season with the starting lineup, a Jay Wright move if there ever was one. Don’t get me wrong, the big man has earned the starting role and will likely only be superseded by talent. But just as he did last year by starting Dylan Painter in the season opener, Wright is going to reward the guys who have put in the time with the program. That’s especially true for a team captain and a guy who will be the early season favorite to lead the team in rebounding and play over 20 minutes a game.
1) Who has the ball in their hands with the game on the line?
In my mind there are five possible options for this one, and we really won’t know the answer until we see how things go in the first couple of games. To make things easy, I’ll rank these from least to most likely.
5) Saddiq Bey. He can hit from the outside, he can get a bucket in the paint, we just haven’t seen him do it under pressure consistently. He has the potential to grow into the Eric Paschall role, and certainly has the talent to be “the guy”. But for now, we’ll have to take a wait and see approach.
4) Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The big man can score inside and out, but he is just a freshman. On top of that, they don’t let you start with the ball 10 feet from the basket, so he’ll still need someone to get him the ball where he can be dangerous. He’s going to be a key to Villanova’s offense this season, but probably won’t be asked to take the final shot.
3) Bryan Antoine. The kid has in the gym range, can create his own shot, and can also beat his man off the dribble. That said, he’s still a freshman and he’s coming off an injury. He may grow into “the guy” by the end of the season, but for now he still has to prove it.
2) Jermaine Samuels. Big Game Jermaine has certainly proved that he can hit clutch shots, and he’s going to hit a lot more before his time at Villanova is over. I’m perfectly happy if Wright is drawing up plays for Samuels during end of game scenarios.
1) Collin Gillespie. Even if he’s not taking the shot, Gillespie’s the best decision maker on the team. He should have the ball in his hands and I trust him to make the right decision, whether that be to take the shot or find open teammates.