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2016-17 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Villanova

The Wildcats have been the gold standard in the Big East since The Reformation, and now they’re the national champs, too. Can they keep this up?

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2015-16 Record: 35-5, 16-2 in the Big East

2015-16 Big East Finish: First

Final 2015-16 KenPom Ranking: #1


Key Departures: Ryan Arcidiacono (12.5 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists); Daniel Ochefu (10.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 1.5 blocks)

Key Returners: Josh Hart (15.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists); Kris Jenkins (13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists); Jalen Brunson (9.6 points, 1.8 rebounds, 2.5 assists)

Key Additions: Omari Spellman (6’9”, 270 lb. center, 247 Sports Composite #19); Dylan Painter (6’10”, 230 lb. power forward, 247 Sports Composite #140); Eric Paschall (redshirt sophomore transfer from Fordham, 6’7”, 260 lb. forward, 2015 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year, 15.9 points, 5.5 rebounds)

Coach: Jay Wright, in his 16th season (476-242 overall, 354-157 at Villanova)

Outlook: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Villanova’s going to be a very good basketball team again this coming season.

Jay Wright’s been at Villanova for 15 years. They’ve missed the postseason once, in 2012, and that also happens to be their only NCAA tournament miss since Wright’s third season in charge. Since the Big East reformed with Butler, Creighton, and Xavier in the summer of 2013, Villanova has been either a 1 seed or a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, and they’ve won the Big East regular season title by at least two games each time.

They are on an incredible roll, which was capped off this past April with the program’s second national championship. Feel free to scroll back up and watch Kris Jenkins’ buzzer beater to win the title again, and then feel free to watch it six or seven more times. I did while I was putting this article together.

Fun Fact #1: Kris Jenkins was Villanova’s second leading scorer last season. I did not realize this until I was writing the list of returning players.

Fun Fact #2: Josh Hart was Villanova’s leading scorer last season. He also finished the year at #5 on the Player of the Year rankings.

Not So Fun Fact For The Rest Of The Big East: As you have noticed by now, both Hart and Jenkins are back for their senior seasons on the Main Line. If you thought that Villanova was going to have some kind of drop off after their national championship, you have been sorely mistaken.

It’s not to say that the Wildcats don’t have an issue or two in front of them. They will have to replace Ryan Arcidiacono, who has started all but one of Villanova’s games in the last four seasons. They’ll also need to replace Daniel Ochefu, who was one of the two most efficient players in the Big East over the past two seasons. The Arch issue seems to be largely solved, with Jalen Brunson dishing five assists in just under 30 minutes in Villanova’s first game of their summertime trip to Spain. (Side note: It seems largely unfair for the defending national champions who return their two best scorers to get the bonus summer practices attached to a summertime overseas trip.)

Replacing Ochefu may seem obvious from the manpower listed in the “Key Additions” section, and it’s probably seemed that way for a while now for the Wildcat faithful. However, Omari Spellman has bumped into a bit of NCAA eligibility difficulty. You can read this article from VU Hoops for more, but the quick version is that there’s some issue about the timeframe it took him to complete his four years of high school. This sounds slightly worse than the issue that kept Haanif Cheatham from playing on Marquette’s European trip last summer, so we’ll have to keep an eye on that one.

Still, even without Spellman playing in Spain, Villanova decimated the Spanish Select Team that they played in the first game of their trip. Josh Hart, Eric Paschall, Dylan Painter, and Donte DiVicenzo (bouncing back from a foot injury from last December) all grabbed at least six rebounds in that game, so it appears that Wright’s team has the rebounding end of what Ochefu brought to the table figured out at least.