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2017-18 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Villanova Wildcats

After almost a month away, we return to our series of looks at Marquette’s conference foes heading into next season.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Mount St Mary's vs Villanova Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2016-17 Record: 32-4, 15-3 Big East

2016-17 Big East Finish: Regular season champions by three full games.

Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #2

Postseason? Won the Big East tournament, but was bounced in the second round of the NCAA tournament by, of all teams, Wisconsin. We are totally fighting, Villanova.

Key Departures: Josh Hart (18.7 pts, 6.4 rbs, 2.9 ast, 1.6 stl); Kris Jenkins (13.1 pts, 4.1 rbs, 2.0 ast); Darryl Reynolds (4.5 pts, 5.4 rbs)

Key Returners: Jalen Brunson (14.7 pts, 2.6 rbs, 4.1 ast); Mikal Bridges (9.8 pts, 4.6 rbs, 2.0 ast, 1.7 stl); Donte DiVincenzo (8.8 pts, 3.8 rebs, 1.7 ast)

Key Arrivals: Omari Spellman (6’9”, 260 lb., 247 Sports Class of 2016 #21), redshirt freshman forced by the NCAA to sit out the 2016-17 season; 247 Sports’ 4th best recruiting class in the Big East and #24 in the country, including Jermaine Samuels (6’6”, 190 lb., 247 #44) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (6’8”, 215 lb., 247 #91)

Coach: Jay Wright, in his 24th season, 17th at Villanova (508-245 overall, 386-161 at Villanova)

Outlook: I’ll believe Villanova has taken a step back when I see it.

Four years of the Big East since The Reformation, four straight regular season titles for the Wildcats. Each one was by at least two games in the standings.

Now they have to try to do that without Josh Hart for the first time. Hart was an efficiency stalwart for Jay Wright for the past four seasons, finishing in the top 90 in KenPom’s Offensive Rating in three of his four seasons. The lone season where he missed? #201 in the country, and, uh, well, Villanova won the national championship that year, so I suspect that Hart is somehow able to sleep at night.

But like I said, he’s gone now, so Wright and his team will have to figure out a way to replace the do-everything wing. Jalen Brunson will hold things together for the Wildcats as they find ways to patch over the gap left by Hart, as well as the one left by Kris Jenkins. There’s no reason to expect this team to drop from the top of the standings, though. Omari Spellman will finally make his Villanova debut in November after an NCAA mandated redshirt season. The big man from Ohio will add a dimension to VU that they did not have last season, and it’s not like they were hurt by not having it.

Sure, teams might challenge Villanova for the league crown this coming season. They might even pull it off, giving us a new regular season champ for the first time in five seasons. I’m not going to get caught predicting it to happen, though.