Team: Villanova Wildcats
2018-19 Record: 26-10, 13-5 Big East
2018-19 Big East Finish: All alone in first place, beat out Marquette by one game for the regular season title. The Wildcats went on to win the Big East Tournament by edging out Seton Hall 74-72.
Final 2018-19 KenPom Ranking: #30
Postseason? Earned a #6 seed in the NCAA tournament. After surviving the gritty St. Mary’s squad, they were no match for a strong Purdue side and fell in the second round by a margin of 81-67.
Key Departures: The Wildcats are losing their two best players in Phil Booth and Eric Paschall due to graduation. Booth led the team in points and assists (18.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.8 assists). While Paschall led the team in boards (16.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists). Both received a unanimous first team All-Big East selection.
Key Returners: Collin Gillespie (10.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists), Saddiq Bey (8.2 points, 5.1 rebounds, 1.3 assists), Jermaine Samuels (6.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.0 assists), and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (5.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, led the team with 32 blocks). The Wildcats bring back a strong core group as all these players started the majority of the season for Coach Wright.
Key Additions: A boatload of freshmen! Starting with Chris Arcidiacono. he’s a 6’5” freshmen guard out of Perkiomen High School. Yep, you guessed it...Ryan’s younger brother. Ryan Arcidiacono will always be remembered for the greatest assist in NCAA Championship history. Side note: the confetti blasters sure sounded like gunshots but that’s just me. There’s also 6’5” freshmen guard Bryan Antoine who’s out of Ranney School in New Jersey. He’s the no. 16 prospect in the class of 2019 according 247 Sports. Then there’s freshmen forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (JRE for short) from Overland Park, Kansas. Standing at 6’9”, JRE is ranked 15th by 247 Sports. Yes, Villanova has the #15 and #15 prospects in the Class of 2019. Fun fact: JRE earned a roster spot for on the 12-man team USA at the U19 World Cup. Justin Moore (6’4”, 200 lb. shooting guard) slots in at #55 in the 247 Sports rankings. He attended DeMatha in Washington, D.C., and it’s always fun to see a Big East team swipe top 60 recruits out from underneath Georgetown’s nose. Last, but not least, there’s 6’8” freshmen forward Eric Dixon out Abington High School in Willow Grove, PA. He’s ranked in the ESPN top 100. Dixon comes in as an accomplished young man being the first 2,000 point scorer in Abington High School history. All told, the Wildcats have the 4th best recruiting class of 2019. They are bringing in a lot of firepower to an already experienced team.
Coach: Jay Wright. You may have heard of him? In his 18 seasons with the Wildcats he’s led them to two national championships. Wright is the winningest head coach in Villanova basketball history with 448 wins. His other hardware includes 5 regular season championships along with 4 Big East Tournament titles. His career record at ‘Nova is 448-175...not too shabby.
Outlook: Villanova was supposed to have a “down” year last season, and by most measures of the word, they did. The Wildcats still managed to win the Big East regular season and tournament championship. Imagine what they can do this year bringing back four starters and having four freshmen that can make an impact right away. I’m just going to bury the lede here and predict another regular season title for the Wildcats. They’ve won it 5 of the last 6 years, and when they didn’t win it in 2018 they made up for it by winning the Big East Tournament title.
Expect Gillepsie and Bey to get better with more responsibility now that Booth and Paschall are gone. Samuels and Cosby-Roundtree will figure to be important rotational players if not starters on Day 1. The real question becomes how Coach Wright will incorporate the freshmen as the season goes on.
It looks like JRE will get the first shot at showing the staff what he’s capable of. Based on limited highlights I’ve watched, he’s super athletic and has impressive ball-handling skills and court vision. He’s listed as a forward so look for him to be a matchup nightmare with his ability to play with his back to the basket as well as with the ball in his hands. On the AAU circuit last year, he finished with 19.5 points, 11.4 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game in 8 contests. This guy is already a bucket-getter and is also a great rebounder so look for him to be involved early in the Wildcats non-conference slate. Here’s a highlight video of his skills on both sides of the ball.
Then there is Bryan Antoine. Although he won’t be able to play from the get-go since he’s recovering from rotator cuff surgery, he should be joining the team by the time Big East play tips-off. On the AAU circuit, Antoine had a nice stat line of 15.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.3 assists while shooting 41% from three. He’s a two-way guard that can make an immediate impact once he’s healthy. It’s hard to predict how impactful he’ll be because coming back from injury is always difficult. Coach Wright will probably ease him into the rotation, and if his playing time is going to be dictated by his ability to hit threes, reacquiring his shooting stroke might take a bit.
The last freshmen I want to make a note of is Eric Dixon. He will see more minutes early in the season with Antoine out and will get his chance to prove himself. He averaged 16.9 points and 7.1 rebounds in AAU ball. Like JRE, he’s capable of racking up double-doubles. Dixon can also score in multiple ways: driving to the basket, mid-range jumper, or splash the occasional three. Last summer he shot 57% from the field and the same number from behind the arc. Yes, he only averaged one make a game but still, he’s capable of making them from long-range. Here’s a quick look at what Dixon can do.
Villanova is getting better with these highly talented recruits. Wright will have the luxury of having a deep team this year and has a few months to figure out where the pieces fit before Big East play starts. It will likely be a mix of experience and young blood but the outcome will be no different: the Wildcats will once again win the Big East title. The only question is whether they will dominate like they did a few years ago? Or will there be a bit more drama like last year when they came from behind? I live for the drama. Unfortunately, it’s July. We’ve got a long way to go.