With a new season come new challenges and a revamped Villanova Wildcats roster. The 2016 NCAA champions will be looking to earn their second straight Big East title this year, as they kick off their season on Nov. 10 against Columbia University. Losing star perimeter players Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart is a huge blow, but pre-season AP All-American Jalen Brunson and other returning players can be expected to fill the void, making a run for the title possible.
Nova’s offense should have another solid scoring season. Expect to see Brunson function in the pick and roll with red shirt freshman Omari Spellman. Spellman was a top 20 prospect in 2016, who is a great finisher around the rim, but also has a soft touch that extends to the three point range.
This two-man team will be used to keep defense off balance, as going under Spellman’s 250-pound frame would allow for Brunson’s pull-up jumpers and lane penetration. If defense get overzealous and extends out on Brunson, Spellman will be available on rolls to the basket with a smaller defender on his hip. Spellman will also demand opposite side help, which will free up Nova’s reliable shooters in the corners. With 4.1 assists per game, Brunson has the court vision to consistently find open shooters.
Head coach Jay Wright has put together an impressive roster of keen shooters and defenders, including Great Valley graduate Mikal Bridges. Bridges will be tasked with locking down the opponent’s best perimeter scorer, as well as building off his 39 percent 3-point shooting last season. Expect Bridges to be a candidate for Big East Defensive Player of the Year again.
A healthy Phil Booth will play a large role in Wright’s rotation, too. Booth is a decent enough facilitator to let Brunson run off ball when the offense calls for it. Ball handling and shooting seems to be a theme among Nova guards, as Donte DiVincenzo also possesses capabilities as an offensive initiator. Incoming freshman Collin Gillespie also brings a natural feel for ball movement and efficient offense, though his role may be minimal as a first year player.
Also crucial will be whether or not Spellman can prove himself as a valuable rim protector. His 7-foot-1 wingspan suggests potential. Spellman contains the broadness necessary to keep opposing men from getting deep position on the block, plus he’s agile. Eric Paschall will provide relief for Spellman and be active around the rim. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree may also get rotational minutes and look to run the floor.
Last season, the team’s defense was pivotal in a run to a Big East title, only allowing about 63 points per game. Having three capable perimeter defenders that could keep their man in front made running an offense frustrating for the opposition. While this year’s roster won’t struggle to put up points, the challenge will be continuing defensive pressure without Hart and Jenkins. Only time will tell if they can repeat the magic of two seasons ago.
Other Season Openers
La Salle University opens Nov. 11 against St. Peter’s
St. Joseph’s University opens Nov. 11 at Toledo
University of Pennsylvania opens Nov. 11 at Fairfield
Temple University opens Nov. 16 against Old Dominion