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2023-24 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Villanova Wildcats

What do the Wildcats look like in the post-Maddie Siegrist era?

Villanova’s Lucy Olsen
Lucy Olsen led Villanova in assists last season and is the team’s leading returning scorer.
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Team: Villanova Wildcats

2022-23 Record: 30-7 overall, 17-3 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Second, one game behind Connecticut and two games ahead of Creighton.

Final 2022-23 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #12

Postseason? After falling by 11 to UConn in the Big East tournament title game, the Wildcats earned a #4 seed in the NCAA tournament and the right to host the first two rounds at Finneran Pavilion. They made the most of their home games, knocking off Cleveland State and Florida Gulf Coast to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2003 and just the second time in program history. Villanova bowed out of the tournament at that point, losing to #9 seeded Miami, 70-65, after the Hurricanes knocked off #1 Indiana in order to advance out of the second round in the first place.

Key Departures: Two, but for reasons we’ll get into a little later on, one very big one and one lesser so. The big one is obviously Maddy Siegrist, who led the nation in scoring at season’s end and was just 0.8 rebounds per game away from averaging a double-double. To the surprise of no one, she was the #3 pick in the WNBA Draft and is currently playing for the Dallas Wings. Villanova’s other loss that we have to mention is Brooke Mullin, who averaged 3.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists, but started all 37 games and was playing over 26 minutes a night this past season. She’s still in college basketball, since she had a bonus year of eligibility, but she grad transferred across town to Drexel.

Key Returners: With just two notable departures from a Sweet 16, you’d expect a lot of notable returning players, and that is an accurate assumption. The Wildcats had the same starting five every single night out last season, and that means that three of them return for 2023-24. Lucy Olsen is the biggest name to know, as she is VU’s leading returning scorer at 12.4 points per game. Olsen also led the team in assists last year at 4.4 per game and knocked in 36% of her long range attempts. Christina Dalce is probably #2 amongst the trio as she was the #2 rebounder on the team behind Siegrist at 7.9 caroms per game. That would have led a lot of teams, so that’s a good thing for them to have coming back, and Dalce added 7.3 points per night, too. Maddie Burke rounds out the group after averaging 7.1 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.7 assists per game last year. She was Villanova’s most prolific three-point shooter to the tune of 5.2 attempts per contest, and 36% of them went in.

Villanova’s depth remains solid, as Bella Runyan and Kaitlyn Orihel come back after coming off the bench in every single game last year. Runyan was something of a super-sub, averaging over 23 minutes per game without starting a single time, but her statistical contributions aren’t that interesting: 4.0 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists while hitting just 28% of her nearly two long range attempts per game. Orihel saw 14 minutes of action a night, chipping in 3.0 points and 1.0 rebounds. She could hit threes — 36% on the year — but she just wasn’t asked to do that a lot with just 1.6 attempts per game.

Zanai Jones and Megan Olbrys played in 29 and 25 minutes respectively. When they did get on the floor, they both averaged right about 10 minutes a game, so they’re sliding just under the wire to make it into the report here. Neither of them really have anything that stands out in terms of contributions, although Jones did hit 35% of the 20 long range attempts that she put up.

Key Additions: The Wildcats have one transfer and two freshmen on the roster this year. Neither of the two freshmen earn a mention from Blue Star Basketball, so it’s hard to say anything particularly important about either one of them. Denae Carter (6’0”, Forward, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) comes to The Main Line after two seasons at Mississippi State. She mostly came off the bench for the Bulldogs in her 47 career appearances, and while she played in more games as a sophomore, she played fewer minutes. Carter is coming off averaging 4.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in Starkville last year, and she has just three total three-point field goal attempts to her name. This is a return home for her, as she lists Philadelphia as her home town.

Coach: Denise Dillon, entering her fourth season at Villanova and 21st as a Division 1 head coach. She has a record of 71-23 with the Wildcats and 400-227 overall.

Outlook: I’m going to rattle off some numbers here. Stick with me for a minute.

18% of minutes
35% of field goal attempts
49% of free throw attempts
41% of points
25% of rebounds
22% of blocks

I included the minutes in there as a comparative data point to the other numbers.

Can you guess what I did there?

Yeah, that’s Maddy Siegrist’s contributions last year for Villanova. She was only on the bench for 165 minutes all season long, if you want to look at the minutes thing from a per-game angle instead of a team/season total angle. Her Hoop Stats has Siegrist at a career high usage rate of 37.8% last season, which ranked 5th in the country. You can’t fault the coaching staff for any of it because Siegrist was absurdly good, but the fact of the matter is that now she’s not there. Neither is Brooke Mullin, and while that’s not as big of a problem as losing Siegrist, it’s not nothing, either.

So what is Villanova basketball now? Denise Dillon took over the team at the start of Siegrist’s sophomore year, so everything we’ve seen from her so far has been The Maddy Siegrist Show. Dillon’s roster has plenty of women who know how to practice and prepare the way that Dillon wants them to..... but all of that has been directed towards “Maddy Siegrist is going to win ball games for us.”

It’s safe to say that no one single player on VU’s roster is suddenly going to turn into the statistical dynamo that Siegrist was for them. If that was the case, I feel like we could have trusted Dillon and her staff to identify that player and turn their games into a two-woman show. Is it possible that Villanova could turn into a “sum of the parts is greater than the whole” type of team this upcoming season, sort of a “who knows who’s going to lead us in scoring on any given night?” type of operation? Sure, maybe that’s their best path going forward.

But that’s going to be a dramatic change for everyone. Women like Maddie Burke and Lucy Olsen weren’t afraid to let it fly last season, averaging 5.2 and 3.9 three-point attempts per game last year. But are they going to get the same kind of shots without defenses being drawn in by Siegrist’s gravitational pull? Will more minutes for Kaitlyn Orihel keep her shooting 36% from long range or will asking her to do more because everyone needs to do more push her more towards the 28% from her freshman year? What will Villanova do when they get late into a shot clock — and the Wildcats were #324 in pace last season, so there was an awful lot of late shot clocks going on there — and they can’t just default to “let Maddy figure it out?”

I’d be willing to wager that Villanova will be a competitive basketball team this coming winter. They have too many players with experience in big time games to not be competitive night in and night out in the Big East. Are they going to be an NCAA tournament team? I’d bet against hosting NCAA tournament games for a second straight season, but top half of the Big East and in contention for being a tournament team? Seems possible, but I don’t know if I’m willing to predict it until I see the Wildcats in action.