Key Departures: Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Jalen Brunson (Jr.)
SG: Donte DiVincenzo (RS So.)
SF: Mikal Bridges (RS Jr.)
PF: Eric Paschall (RS Jr.)
C: Omari Spellman (RS Fr.)
Key Reserve Players:
SG: Phil Booth (RS Jr.), SF: Jermaine Samuels Jr. (Fr.), PF/C: Dylan Painter (So.), PF: Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Fr.), PG: Collin Gillespie (Fr.)
As I discussed with Devonte’ Graham and Quentin Snider, Jalen Brunson is another point guard to keep your eye on this year. The junior will be one of the best floor generals to watch in college basketball. With the departures of players like Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, Brunson will step into a larger leadership role for the Wildcats. Having won a National Championship his freshman year, Brunson has all the experience necessary. Ever since he stepped his foot onto campus, Brunson has been poised and mature beyond his years as the point guard for Villanova Basketball. In addition to running the offense, he will be required to score more with Hart and Jenkins both gone. Villanova will definitely miss these two guys. They are both great dudes. Kris Jenkins will always be remembered for “the shot” against UNC in 2016, and Hart is one of the best teammates you could ever ask for. He’s the ultimate competitor, and a guy who improved on his game every single year. Hart is one of the best rebounding guards that I have ever watched. He did a little bit of everything for Jay Wright. By being exposed to these guys, Brunson definitely learned about their work ethic, and what it meant to be a Villanova Wildcat. I think Brunson is definitely prepared to take on a larger role.
I was pleasantly surprised with Donte DiVincenzo this past year. His activity and energy on the court was contagious, and his game-winning tip-in against UVA last year gave him a name in the college basketball world. I expect his scoring to increase (into double figures), and he will form a very good backcourt with Brunson. DiVincenzo will also take on a more facilitating role with Hart no longer in the picture. This will help out Brunson. Mikal Bridges didn’t take as big of a leap as I anticipated last season. I love his slashing ability, length, and his 3&D potential. He has the tools to be an NBA player. Although he was second (behind Josh Hart) in 3-point shooting percentage last year, he was not consistent enough. I also expect his scoring to increase, and I think this might be the year that he makes the significant leap in his game.
Last season, size was a huge issue for Villanova. Darryl Reynolds basically played center, and Eric Paschall spotted him with minutes off the bench. Both guys are natural forwards. Additionally, Omari Spellman was ruled ineligible for the 2016-2017 season, as he did not meet the requirements in time. The former five-star recruit would have made a substantial impact for the Wildcats last season, and may have changed their outcome in the NCAA tournament. He adds serious size in the paint on both ends of the court for Villanova. He is very skilled and talented, he can step out and shoot it, and uses his body well to finish down low. I have Paschall sliding over to the four (he can play three too). He will need to continue to improve his outside shooting, but he is very active/involved when on the floor. Painter, who only played in 127 minutes in his freshman season, will add more depth as a big, along with Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, the four-star freshman. Cosby-Roundtree is still very raw, but will hopefully help out on the boards and with put-backs.
Phil Booth, the hero from the 2016 Championship squad, only played in three games last season due to a knee injury. However, he has recently been cleared for all basketball activities, which is huge news for Villanova. He adds shooting, big-game experience, and more guard depth. I could see him being inserted into the starting lineup at some point, but for now, I have him coming off the bench. One of my favorite recruits is Jermaine Samuels, who adds good length and athleticism on the wing behind Bridges. I think he will be able to contribute on both ends of the court during his freshman year. Collin Gillespie may see some back-up point guard minutes during his freshman year. He can learn how to be a playmaker for the Wildcats, and has a perfect mentor in Brunson to teach him the ropes.
Villanova has lost its cornerstone pieces the last two years. First it was Daniel Ochefu and Ryan Arcidiacano. Now, it is Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. With Jalen Brunson now the face of the program, Villanova has entered a new era. This team will have some experience going into the year, but the squad as a whole is relatively young. I have them ranked eighth on my preseason list, and expect Jay Wright to capture a fifth straight regular season championship in the Big East.