Staying true to his program philosophy helped Jay Wright secure a title. Now, his Villanova Wildcats are in a position to win another one.
Last we saw of March Madness, Kris Jenkins was busy etching his name into the college basketball pantheon of greatness.
We all remember the moment.
[Gives it to Jenkins…For the championship…Yeeeessss!]
There is no doubt that Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater will go down as one of the greatest shots in basketball history. The fact that it didn’t win the ESPY for “best play” is beyond comprehension (He hit a buzzer-beating shot to win THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD).
A more pressing point of intrigue at the moment, however, is whether the Wildcats will win consecutive championships in what figures to be one of college basketball’s most talented fields in years. A criticism–albeit not a good one–is that the Wildcats won the championship in part because last year’s field was not as strong nor talented as it was in previous years. This theory will be put to test, given the number of teams that boast rosters with loads of both talent and depth, specifically the Duke, Kansas, Oregon, and Kentuckys of the world.
Let’s take a look at what the Wildcats are comprised of and what their strengths and weaknesses are heading into a season filled with very high expectations.
The former St. Thomas More School standout brings a well-rounded skillset to the Mainline. Spellman is a smooth operator in the post area, where he prefers turnaround jumpers, quick spin moves and baby hooks. Don’t be fooled, however, the 6′ 8″ bigman can step out to the 3-point line and drain an open jumper with regularity. Although he has reportedly shed some weight in his relatively short time on campus, Spellman remains a load to handle on the block and on the glass. He plays with a somewhat subdued mean streak and swagger that allows him to really exert his will at times. Coach Wright has made it a mission of his to temper any lofty expectations for Spellman, as Wright can often be heard saying that he wants Spellman to simply “enjoy” his freshman year and not put too much pressure on himself. Reading between the lines, I’ve grown to believe that Spellman will likely play a backup role to senior Darryl Reynolds–at least for the first half of the season. Nevertheless, Spellman will play an important role in helping fill the void left behind by Daniel Ochefu.
As a transfer from Fordham, Paschall technically isn’t a newcomer, but he will be eligible to play this season after sitting out last year. If you have kept an ear to the ground regarding Villanova basketball, you are no stranger to the whispers of Paschall being one of the the best players in practices and turning many heads. After all, he was the former A-10 rookie of the year, averaging 15.9 points and pulling down 5.5 rebounds per game in his freshman campaign. Paschall is a 6’7″ bruiser who has solid all-around skills. Defensively and on the boards is where Paschall can really wreak havoc from the start while adjusting to Villanova’s system. Given Paschall’s versatility, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Coach Wright play him at the 2-5 positions, of course taking into account the opponent’s lineups. Paschall can stand to improve his jumper and polish his ball handling, but he will be a force to reckon with not just next season, but beyond. He will be a key piece off the bench for the Wildcats.
Painter, a Hershey, PA resident, is the tallest player on Villanova’s roster, standing somewhere around 6’10”. That fact alone may prevent him from being a redshirt candidate. Make no mistake about, however, Painter has game–an underrated one at that. He is a mobile big who can stretch the floor out a bit. The most impressive aspect of Painter as a player is his work ethic, which has already caught the eye of the coaching staff. He plays his tail off on the court and is coachable, making him a viable option as the third big when needed. If Coach Wright wants to go with a bigger lineup against certain teams, Painter will find himself getting action on the court.
What makes Villanova great–and we saw some of this in the tournament run–is the team’s ability to play a variety of styles and adjust to quick turnarounds. In the tournament, the Wildcats controlled the pace in each and every game, completing what some claim to be the toughest road to a national championship in college basketball history. The Wildcats are not shy to muck the game up, as they did against Kansas, or “shoot ’em up and sleep in the streets”, as they did against Oklahoma. They do a great job of mixing up defenses–the 1-3-1 press, matchup zone, man-to-man, switching and fronting all make it very hard to prepare for them. On top of all that, Jay Wright’s players play ridiculously hard and are physical at all positions. The coaching staff is also one of the best in the nation at scouting the opponent and taking away its best options.
Ball and man movement
Villanova prides itself on making the extra pass that leads to better shots, and what makes it tough to contain is that the roster is stock full of shooters who seamlessly fit in Coach Wright’s 4-out offense. It is very hard to clog up the lane and protect the paint against the Wildcats because they pull you away from the rim. If the opponent tries to run them off the three point line, players like Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Kris Jenkins, and Josh Hart do a good job of driving or pump-faking to get the defender in the air. The players off the ball do a great job of cutting to the rim when a defender turns his head. You have to be dialed in at all times because the Villanova players very rarely beats themselves.
3rd point guard
Jay Wright loves trotting out a two point guard lineups, something that has become a trend all over college basketball. Having a reliable 3rd ball handling guard, however, makes this strategy even more potent. Last season, Villanova had Phil Booth play that role off the bench, excelling at doing the little things on both sides of the ball and providing a scoring punch when needed. This season, Booth will move into the starting lineup to replace Ryan Arcidiacono. That means Jay Wright will have to find out who will consistently live up to what Booth provided as the 3rd ball handling guard. The main candidate is Donte Divincenzo, whose season was cut short due to a foot injury that caused him to eventually redshirt. The question is whether Divincenzo is ready–from a ball handling aspect–to do so, as he’s more of a scorer at this point. If he can fill that role, the Wildcats will be very, very dangerous.
Does Villanova have the necessary size to deal with bulky, wide centers like Isaac Haas and Landen Lucas? Right now, the answer cannot be determined. Daryl Reynolds is about 6’7″ and has a very lean body structure. He usually fronts bigger players, but get sealed often by those who are stronger. Will his strength increase in his senior season? We shall see. Omari Spellman is the bulkiest big on the roster, but only stands 6’8″. Dylan Painter is around 6’10”, but it remains to see if he can handle the physicality of older players. Villanova’s games against Purdue (7’2″ Haas and 6’9″Swanigan) and Virginia (6’11” Jack Salt and 6’9″ Austin Nichols) should tell us how tough the big men are. Villanova does a couple things very well to negate size advantage: 1) they increase the ball pressure on the wing to prevent easy post entries and 2)they relentlessly battle on the boards hoping for a long rebound.
I believe the Villanova Wildcats will repeat as national champions.
Despite a lack of immense size, the team has such good balance across its roster. They present a lot of matchup problems, and play so smart and hard that it takes a lot out of the opponent to battle every possession. When they are shooting well, they are that more dangerous.
The Wildcats sport a 97-13 record over the last 3 seasons, and own the most wins in the nation in that time span. I don’t expect this season to be any different. Jay Wright has built a consistently excellent program, and has made the correct coaching and scheduling adjustments to better prepare his Wildcats for the tournament.
Image of Omari Spellman: Rich Graeselle (Icon Sportswire)
*All others have no photographer mentioned in original source