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2022-23 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Villanova Wildcats

Can the Wildcats ride Maddie Siegrist’s production to a second straight NCAA tournament appearance?

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament Championship-UConn vs Villanova
What does senior year hold for Maddie Siegrist?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2021-22 Record: 24-9, 15-4 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: Second, one game ahead of Creighton in the loss column.

Final 2021-22 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #71 out of 356 teams.

Postseason: A loss to UConn in the Big East tournament title game wasn’t enough to keep the Wildcats out of the NCAA field. Villanova picked up a #11 seed which gave them a first round game against #6 BYU, and they got the 61-57 victory. The second round, not so fun, as VU lost a road game against #3 seed Michigan, 64-49.

Key Departures: Just two, but both are pretty notable, and one is bigger than the other because one was expected because of eligibility and one was not. Brianna Herlihy was a loss that Villanova was always expecting to take on after last season ended, as the 6-foot tall forward was in her sixth year of college thanks to a redshirt year in 2016-7 and a bonus year of eligibility due to COVID relief. The Massachusetts native appeared in 31 of VU’s 33 games last season, starting in each one. She was third on the team in scoring at 10.7 per game and one of just three players to average double digits, but that wasn’t even her biggest contribution. Herlihy was second on the team in rebounding at 8.2 a game, but that made her one of just two players with more than four rebounds a night. Her ability to haul in misses was crucial to making the entire Wildcats’ system work. She also led the team in assists at 3.1 per game, so her absence will be felt in pretty much every facet of the game.

The other miss is the unexpected one, as Lior Garzon elected to transfer to Oklahoma State following the end of the season. As a sophomore, Garzon was #2 on the team in scoring at 13.1 per game and third in rebounding at four a night. While starting in all 32 games she appeared in, the 6’1” Garzon led the Wildcats in long range attempts with 215....... but she only made 31% of them.

Key Returners: How much space should we devote to Maddy Siegrist here? The 6’1” forward was named Big East Player of the Year after averaging 25.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, both of which led Villanova, and just for giggles, she added 1.9 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.0 blocks per game, too. The only question as to whether or not she’ll be preseason POY in October comes down to whether or not the coaches vote for last year’s POY or just presume that a healthy Paige Bueckers is the best player in the league.... because she is.

We could probably keep going here, but for the purposes of keeping this moving, we’ll do that instead. There’s no other way around this: Villanova does not bring back much else in the way of scoring. Lucy Olsen is the next best returning scorer behind Siegrist.... and she averaged 7.0 per game while starting every single game and averaging nearly 30 minutes of run a night. Yeah, things are that dire. Brooke Mullin played in all 33 games and started 32 of them.... and chipped in just 4.8 a night. Bella Runyan, 33 games played with eight starts, 22 minutes a game on average..... 3.6 points per game.

I feel that we should mention Kaitlyn Orihel and Anahi-Lee Cauley here because they did play in 32 and 30 games respectively. The Wildcats wanted them on the floor every single night, or almost every night at least, so there’s value there. Not much, mind you, as they averaged 14.4 and 8.0 minutes respectively, but when you’re an every game rotation player as a freshman as both women were, no matter how small the role, then it stands to reason that there’s bigger things in front of you.

Key Additions: There are four freshmen on the Villanova roster, and none of them are mentioned by Blue Star’s recruiting page. I will say that Megan Olbrys was the 2022 Massachusetts Coaches Association Player of the Year, so that seems to indicate that she’s pretty good at this. Also, while this is not a judgement of any kind, I would like to point out that Maggie Grant is the niece of the head coach, and so if she is anything resembling good right out of the gate, we are going to be hearing that tidbit forever and ever. Take whatever precautions you feel you need to take.

Maddie Burke is the only transfer addition to the team, and it is worth noting that she went to high school about 30 miles away from VU’s campus. The 6’0” guard was at Penn State for the past two seasons, earning Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors in her first campaign. Nice year, 8.9 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, just over 26 minutes a game, hit 35% of her threes. Sophomore year? Not sure what happened, but her minutes plummeted to just over 14 a contest, as did her chances to start for Carolyn Kieger, going from 11 to zero. Burke also couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn from behind the arc, connecting on less than 20% of her attempts on nearly three per game.

Coach: Denise Dillon, heading into her third season at Villanova and 20th as a Division 1 head coach. She (obviously) has a record of 41-16 with the Wildcats and 370-220 overall.

Outlook: It’s a simple metaphor to explain the Wildcats’ upcoming season. They have a terrific engine, maybe the best in the Big East, but even the best engine in the world is just going to sit there on the ground without some wheels, both rolling and steering, to make it go somewhere.

Last year, Villanova had the accessories to make Maddie Siegrist work as the engine. Herlihy and Garzon were the #2 and #3 options/pieces/however you want to explain it, and everyone else fit in around that trio. Now they’re both gone, and while Denise Dillon has a lot of experience on her roster, she is going to need literally everyone outside of Siegrist to play a new role if they want to be successful.

Even if everything works out exactly to their benefit this season, there’s a question about exactly what success looks like for this team. In fairness to everyone involved, Villanova’s Her Hoop Stats ranking at the end of the year and their #71 NET on Selection Sunday is a little worse than it really was and/or should have been. Maddie Siegrist missed six games early in the year, and the Wildcats went 3-3 in that stretch, losing at Temple and at Providence. That loss to the Friars ended up being their worst loss of the entire season (#170 in the NET on Selection Sunday).... and the Temple loss (#118) was their second worst loss. So you can throw those out, and in theory, the selection committee did that when evaluating Villanova because they’re not indicative of the team that they were in March.....

..... and they still ended up as a #11 seed, just a scant few spots from the cut line. If they didn’t hand UConn their first regular season conference loss since before the Huskies went off to the AAC, much less do that on the road, I’m not sure that Villanova makes the NCAA tournament, and that’s with a record of 20-5 on Selection Sunday with Siegrist in the lineup.

Can they be better than that and end up with a second straight NCAA tournament appearance, something the program hasn’t done since 2002 and 2003? Yeah, I think it’s possible. Dillon has clearly shown that she knows what she’s doing as a coach, and she’s getting the maximum value out of Siegrist. The question will be whether or not she can assemble the supporting cast around her all-conference star. If the Lucy Olsens and Bella Runyans of the world step up, then things look good for the Wildcats. If they don’t..... it could be a long season on the Main Line.