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2018-19 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Villanova Wildcats

We might be able to expose Jay Wright as a witch this year.

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Round - Mount St. Mary’s v Villanova Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Team: Villanova Wildcats (sing along)

2017-18 Record: 36-4, 14-4 Big East

2017-18 Big East Finish: Second to Xavier. Remember when Xavier lost in the second round as a 1 seed and zero people were surprised? That was great.

Final 2017-18 KenPom Ranking: #1. They’ve finished as a Top 5 KenPom team in each of the last 4 years.

Postseason? They beat Radford 87-61 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. A great accomplishment for them. Congrats.

What? Okay, fine. Yes, they also won the national championship and blew the doors off of everyone in the tournament.

Key Departures: I think half the city of Philadelphia left Villanova to go to the NBA. Jalen Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman all left early to pursue pro careers. All 4 were starters on a National Championship team. Somehow it’s not going to matter all that much.

Key Returners: Phil Booth and Eric Paschall were major contributors. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be poised to take on a major role after spending his freshman year as a role player. Collin Gillespie played minutes I guess?

Key Additions: Jay Wright landed arguably the most sought-after graduate transfer in Joe Cremo from Albany because of course he did. He also added some freshmen, like PG Jahvon Quinerly (#29 overall, according to 247 Sports), PF Cole Swider (#42 overall), Brandon Slater (#52 overall), and Saddiq Bey (#135 overall. No one has even made a “Bey hive” reference yet and I’m already sick of it). As much as been made about “JAY WRIGHT IS DOING THIS WITHOUT A TOP RECRUITING CLASS,” this group is ranked #9 in the country.

Coach: The Pinstripe Don himself, Jay Wright. His overall record is 544-250. With Villanova it’s 422-165. Over the last 5 years it’s 165-21 with 2 titles. Neat!

Outlook: This is likely going to be considered a major down year for the Wildcats. Having lost 2 of the 10 contenders for KenPom Player of the Year, a player who pulled off one of the best tournament performances in recent memory in part because he did it as a ginger, and probably the best big shooter in college basketball, that’s most of their lineup gone. Plus they won the championship with their closest margin of victory in the tournament being 12 points. It’d be unfair to set those kind of expectations on them again.

They’re still probably going to win the Big East by multiple games and be a top 20 team. For reference, they’re ranked 12 in T-Rank’s 2019 projections.

Their main core includes Phil Booth, a senior guard who might have left early as well had it not been for major injuries the last two years, Eric Paschall, a highly efficient big who can shoot, and grad transfer Joe Cremo, who shot 45.7% from three last year for Albany.

We will remember UMBC as the first 16 seed to beat 1 seed, but never forget the 2006 Albany team that was beating the 1 seeded UConn by 10 with 11:25 left to go.

The supporting cast includes Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who I loved last year. He’s a 6-8 forward who can really defend and his offensive rebounding rate ranked in the 91st percentile last year. He can’t really shoot, but he’s quick on the post and built almost like a wing, so he can guard multiple positions. Being the fourth best player is a step down from someone like Divincenzo being the fourth best player, but I think he can take a major step forward this year as being a solid role player.

Point guard will likely be run by the freshman Jahvon Quinerly, a McDonald’s All-American who decommitted from Arizona after the Sean Miller investigation scared every recruit away. Remember when the Arizona Athletic Department put their faith in Sean Miller because they believed he didn’t pay Deandre Ayton $100,000 when the real issue is that he just can’t coach? This is my first real basketball article since March, so a lot of stuff is coming back to me now.

But yeah, Quinerly ended up being a big time get for Villanova because their point guard situation was either going to involve playing Phil Booth out of position there or playing Collin Gillespie starter minutes. Quinerly is no Jalen Brunson, but scouting reports indicate he has a great feel for the position and an improved jump shot. That’s all they need.

So basically we have a team without a lot of proven depth or size down low, but a starting lineup densely packed with star power and shooters. Does that sound familiar? This is the same type of team Jay Wright has been churning out for years now. The individual players just aren’t going to be as talented as those on his title-winning teams.

I’m not counting on Villanova to flop until I see it happen*. However [Stephen A Smith voice], with the way that Marquette has played them in the past and the talent gap between the two being as small as it’s been with Wojo at the helm, we can say that it’s a reasonable goal for the Golden Eagles to split the series this year. That’s about as far as I’ll go, though.

*I wrote this sentence on my own accord, without any assistance. It just so happened that Our Lord And Savior/Cult Leader Brewtown Andy wrote almost this exact same sentence in his Villanova check-in last year.

Every team in the Big East has question marks this year. The winner of the conference will not be one of those question marks. I expect Villanova to win it by multiple games.