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2020-21 Big East Men’s Basketball Team Preview: Villanova Wildcats

What’s in store for the Wildcats this season? Just your average experienced championship caliber basketball team.

DePaul v Villanova Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2019-20 Record: 24-7, 13-5 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: Three-way tie for first place, ended up as the #2 seed in the conference tournament by way of tiebreakers.

Final 2019-20 KenPom Ranking: #18

Postseason Projection: BracketMatrix.com slotted the Wildcats in as a #2 seed, one spot ahead of Creighton, the team that ended up in front of them in the Big East standings by tiebreakers. It would have been Villanova’s eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance and 15th in the last 16 years.

Key Departures: Villanova lost no seniors from last year’s roster because they had no seniors. Isn’t that lucky of them. However, they will have to figure out how to operate with Saddiq Bey, who left after his sophomore year to enter the NBA Draft. He blew up into a star in his second season on the court for the Wildcats, leading the team in scoring with 16.1 points per game and adding 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game while shooting 45% from behind the three-point line.

And that’s it for guys they lost. Not key guys, just guys. Bey is the full list of departures.

Key Returners: As you can imagine with only one guy departing the roster, Villanova has an awful lot of key guys coming back for 2020-21. They have four players who averaged at least 10 points per game last season, led by Collin Gillespie. The 6’3” point guard will presumably earn at least a couple of votes for Preseason Big East Player of the Year because that’s the kind of thing that being Villanova’s leading returning scorer does for you. Gillespie went for 15.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game a year ago as the Ryan Arcidiacono cloning process showed no sign of breaking down. Justin Moore played his way into the starting lineup for Villanova last year, finishing the campaign with a stat average of 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Jermaine Samuels started in 30 of Villanova’s 31 games last season, contributing 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. While Gillespie will get the attention, there’s a real argument to be made that Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is the most dangerous returning Wildcat after just barely missing out on averaging a double-double a year ago. 10.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game is one hell of a way to contribute to a team, and shooting 33% on threes just seems criminal in addition to all of that.

Cole Swider and Brandon Slater both played in all 31 of Villanova’s games last season, with Swider being the one that ended up ceding his starting spot to Moore as the season went on. In any case, both guys averaged well over 10 minutes per game as notable rotation pieces for the Wildcats. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree didn’t get that much in terms of minutes, but he still played in 29 of 31 games. Bryan Antoine spent his freshman year at Villanova hampered by a shoulder surgery in May 2019, and as such only saw sporadic minutes here and there. Presuming that he’s 100% for 2020-21, the former top 20 prospect will likely play a much bigger role in the rotation.

Key Additions: Depending on how you look at it, either no one or two guys. There’s no one on the Villanova roster for this season that wasn’t on it a year ago.

There are two guys who were on the roster but were redshirts a year ago. Caleb Daniels is a 6’4”, 210 pound guard who transferred in from Tulane and will be eligible after his transfer redshirt year in 2019-20. As a sophomore for the Green Wave, he started in all 30 games he appeared in, averaging 16.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. He is a career 36% three-point shooter. The other chap who sat out last season is Eric Dixon. The 6’8”, 260 pound forward hails from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, just a scant 20 miles away from Finneran Pavilion on the Villanova campus. He came into college in the 2019-20 season as the #71 prospect in the country per 247 Sports, part of the five man recruiting class that had the Wildcats ranked #5 in the country a year ago.

Coach: Jay Wright, entering his 20th season at Villanova and 27th as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 472-182 with the Wildcats and 594-267 overall.

Outlook: At a glance, the last thing that you’d think a roving death sphere like Villanova men’s basketball needs would be large amounts of year-to-year continuity. We’ll all look back at the 2019-20 season and say “yup, Villanova was Villanova again, and what a wonderful bounce back season from that #6 seed in 2019 even though they won the regular season title.”

However, if you dig a little bit deeper, you’ll note that everything wasn’t super perfect for the Wildcats last season. They got absolutely shelled by Ohio State in their second game of the season. They needed a very long 14-2 run in the second half to pull within 11 of Marquette before still losing by double digits on the road. Creighton blew their doors off in the second half at the Wells Fargo Center. They followed that up with back-to-back close losses at Butler and at home against Seton Hall, giving the Wildcats a three game Big East losing streak for the second straight season.

That dropped Villanova to 17-6 on the year and 7-4 in Big East play. The Seton Hall loss happened on February 8th, marking the earliest that the Wildcats had suffered a fourth league loss since the 2012-13 season when losing to Notre Dame on January 30th dropped them to 4-4. Even the year before where Villanova was “down,” they still went 10-0 to start league action.

Anyway, if you combine the 3-5 end to Big East play in 2018-19 that led to them back-dooring their way to a solo regular season title with the 7-4 start in 2019-20, that looks an awful lot like the Villanova program was in a slight bit of trouble. Did teams finally figure Jay Wright out? Was there some kind of weakness that developed? Were things headed towards a 2011-12-esque crash?

Nope, they won six of their final seven games, only stumbling on a very low scoring loss to a white hot Providence squad, and ended up in a three-way tie for a regular season title. Everything is as it was and should be.

The point of running through all of that is to point out that Villanova is running almost the exact same roster out there this season. With the exception of the loss of Saddiq Bey, Jay Wright is trotting out the exact same team that went through all those lessons a year ago and still won a league title anyway. They get to add a healthy Bryan Antoine, a redshirted top 75 prospect in Eric Dixon, as well as Caleb Daniels fresh off a transfer redshirt season. Yeah, because that’s what Villanova needs to excel: Talented dudes who spent a year just watching and learning how things go on The Main Line.

Things won’t go 100% clean and perfect for the Wildcats this season. Of course they won’t, this is college basketball, we’re watching because things go insanely sideways for 40 minutes sometimes. But go ahead and pencil Villanova in for a league title this season and feel confident in your pick, even if you’re a Creighton fan.