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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Villanova Wildcats

Turns out Denise Dillon basketball looks exactly what you would think it looks like.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 07 Big East Women’s Basketball Tournament - Villanova v UConn
Big things are expected once again from Maddy Siegrist.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2020-21 Record: 17-7, 9-5 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Fifth, two games behind DePaul in the win column but tied in the loss column.

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #61

Postseason? Yep! After getting knocked out of the Big East tournament by UConn in the semifinals, Villanova qualified for the WNIT. They beat UMass and Florida relatively easily before bowing out to Delaware in the quarterfinal round.

Key Departures: The Wildcats have three women who appeared in regular rotation minutes for them last year that are no longer with the team. Sarah Mortensen gets the lead-off spot here after averaging 11.0 points and 5.5 rebounds per game while playing and starting in 22 of VU’s 24 games in her only year on the Main Line. Raven James gets the #2 slot after leading the team in assists at 3.8 per game while playing just 18 minutes a night in 22 appearances. Finally, there’s Sam Carangi, who started three times in her 20 games last season. She got 16 minutes of burn per game last year which means she was a big part of their rotation.... but 1.5 points, 1.4 rebounds, and 2.6 assists are relatively easy to replace.

Key Returners: Clearly we have to start with all-Big East performer Maddy Siegrist, who came thisclose to averaging a double-double last year with 22.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. She also dished out 2.0 assists and added 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks per game for a very nice and healthy all-around game. Brianna Herlihy is VU’s other double-digit scorer back for another go-round. The six-foot forward went for 13.8 points per game last season and was pretty good in the rebounding (7.1) and assists (3.3) departments as well.

From there we have to start playing “what’s more important” to decide who’s next on the list. Is it landing in the starting lineup? Because then we have to go with Brooke Mullin who started in 20 of 23 games last season. The Pennsylvania native played a little bit more than half the game on average while chipping in 3.9 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.6 assists per game.

If you want to prioritize scoring when listing out Villanova’s returning players, then Lior Garzon and Bella Runyan have to go in front of Mullin. Garzon (8.8 points) and Runyan (4.9 points) both have Mullin beat there, and they also have her beat in the Games Played department as they got into every single game last season. Garzon started just once while Runyan got into the first five on four occasions.

Finally, there’s Mackenzie Gardler. The 5’4” guard who goes by Kenzie on the official team roster kept on doing what she does: Playing regularly enough to merit mentioning here (12.5 minutes in 21 appearances) but that’s about it (1.9 points, 1.0 rebounds, 1.7 assists).

Key Additions: Villanova has five freshmen on the roster this season. Only three of them managed to get mentioned by Blue Star Basketball with Christina Dalce ending up as the only top 150 prospect at #148. The 6’2” forward from New Jersey doesn’t have the most blowaway bio notes from her time at Rutgers Prep as listed in her official VU bio. Two-time second team All-State? Sure, that’s neat. It’s not “2021 Miss Pennsylvania Basketball” like Lucy Olsen, a 5’9” guard from Royersford. Somehow that’s not good enough to get ranked by Blue Star. Weird.

Coach: Denise Dillon in her second season at Villanova and 19th as a Division 1 head coach. She (obviously) has a record of 17-7 with the Wildcats and 346-211 overall.

Outlook: As first years under a new head coach go, 2020-21 was pretty good for Villanova. As first years under a new head coach for the first time in 40 years go, it was pretty damn great. I mean, sure, we don’t have a lot of data on that kind of thing for a very obvious reason, but it’s safe to say that Denise Dillon’s first year in charge of her alma mater’s women’s basketball team was pretty good.

DID YOU REALIZE? Villanova’s only losses all year before the WNIT were to Big East teams that finished ahead of them in the standings? They started the year 7-0, including a win over St. John’s to start Big East play. Then they lost to UConn and DePaul in back-to-back contests. Two wins was followed by a loss to Marquette. Repeat, except this time it’s three wins before the Golden Eagles knock them down. Loss to Seton Hall and loss to UConn in the BET. That’s six of the seven, with the seventh being Delaware. Villanova actually snagged a split with Seton Hall and DePaul along the way.

And, shocker of shockers, Dillon’s first Villanova team did a fairly accurate impression of a Harry Perretta team. Not that it’s all that surprising since 1) Dillon played for Perretta back in the day and 2) Dillon’s Drexel teams were already doing pretty good impressions of Perretta’s VU teams. Highly efficient offense, quality defense, shooting a million threes per game, focusing on scoring off the pass more than anything else, limiting turnovers, playing relatively slowly.... that’s all exactly what we would expect from Villanova women’s basketball over the last forever or so, and that’s what VU looked like last season.

With VU’s top two scorers back from last year and five of the six women who averaged more than three points a game, I think it’s safe to expect a lot more of the same this season. Villanova’s biggest question is probably replacing Raven James’ passing production as she ranked #37 in assist rate in the country according to Her Hoop Stats. With that said, James only averaged 18 minutes a night, so literally physically replacing her isn’t as hard as you would automatically think.

It’s possible that VU’s season outcome may come down to which one of the freshmen are able to contribute the most. Dillon went pretty deep with her every day rotation last year with nine women appearing in at least 20 of Villanova’s 24 games and all nine playing at least 12 minutes a night on average. Only six of those women return, so the freshmen are going to have to step up, and probably multiple freshmen at that. Dillon and her staff have options with five fresh faces to choose from, so finding someone to do it shouldn’t be the hard part.