Can Villanova Become a Blue-Blood Basketball Program?
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
Coming off two national championships in the previous three seasons, Villanova appears to be headed toward blue-blood status along with Kentucky’s, Kansas', and Duke’s of the game. Can they keep up that elite level of play in 2018-19? After a 73-46 blowout loss to Michigan in a rematch of last year’s NCAA final, the answer to that question is on shaky ground.
The Plan Wildcats head coach Jay Wright has always been able to reload at Villanova. Despite winning two national titles in three years, Villanova is not Kentucky or Duke. The Wildcats don’t get the five-star recruits that bide their time for a season of college basketball and then immediately jump to the NBA. Players advance through the system, develop, and then move on to professional basketball if they so desire.
Last season, point guard Jalen Brunson and forward Mikal Bridges were superstars that were definitely headed to the NBA after three seasons at Villanova. Behind them, Wright had the next wave of talent in Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman. Those two, as well as a top-20 recruiting class, would lead the Wildcats back for a chance to defend last year’s title.
That all changed with the NCAA tournament. Spellman went off for 18 points and eight rebounds in the Sweet 16 and then 15 and 13 against Kansas in the Final Four. The world was introduced to DiVincenzo in the championship game when he erupted for 31 points. Both players decided to strike while the iron was hot and left for the NBA as well. All four Wildcats were selected among the top 33 players in the 2018 NBA Draft. Wright’s plan was suddenly derailed.
The Plan, Part II With four stars gone, Wright still has seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, a 6-8 forward who can play inside and out. To bolster the lineup, Wright went out and did something he hadn’t done ever – he signed a graduate transfer. Joe Cremo averaged nearly 18 points a game in his final season at the University of Albany.
The only other players in the system that averaged more than 10 minutes per game last season are guard Collin Gillespie and forward Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree. Wright brought in four freshmen the most talented of which is point guard Jahvon Quinerly. The 6-1 Quinerly, who hails from New Jersey, was a five-star recruit who was once committed to Arizona. He could develop into a Brunson-like player, but it will take time.
This will be an interesting season for Wright and the Wildcats. After games with Furman and Canisius, Villanova participates in the Big Five, the annual meetings with the four other Philadelphia-area rivals – LaSalle, Temple, Saint Joseph’s, and Penn. If Wright and company can navigate that stretch, then they will head to No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 15 before the Big East season kicks off on Jan. 2 with DePaul.
Villanova should face some competition in the conference from a very good Marquette team that features Markus Howard, who is averaging 23.3 points a game already this season. Xavier lost a ton of talent and the conference might not be as strong as it was a year ago. That will help Wright continue to build his blue blood program in 2018-19.