The last time Villanova went big-game hunting in the recruiting world was after its 2009 Final Four appearance, and the results weren’t good. The players didn’t fit the program, and the team’s performance reflected that.
Ten years and two national titles later, the Wildcats are at it again, bringing to campus an outstanding five-man class that includes a pair of five-star recruits, guard Bryan Antoine and forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. It could be a bad thing. It could backfire. Right?
“We’re in a different position this time,” Wildcats coach Jay Wright says.
Wright is correct. In ’09, Villanova wasn’t ready to handle its prosperity and the expectations surrounding its renowned newcomers. Now, the culture on and off the court is established, and no matter how good the rookies might be, they will be asked to fit into what is already in place, not vice versa. The big question is whether a team with plenty of returning talent, but no standout, can be a national player.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Jay Wright
2018-19 RECORD (BIG EAST): 26-10 (13-5)
2018-19 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Purdue 87-61 in the second round
G Phil Booth (18.6 ppg, 3.8 apg)
G Joe Cremo (4.0 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
F Eric Paschall (16.5 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
G Jahvon Quinerly (3.2 ppg, 0.9 apg)
Remember when VU was known for its guards, and the frontcourt was an afterthought? That’s not the case this year. The front line is filled with talent and experience and should be the strongest part of the team.
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Leading the way is sophomore Saddiq Bey, a late pickup before last season but a key contributor who showed the ability to do a lot on the floor. He can shoot from behind the arc, defend, pass and rebound.
“He has to continue to expand his game and become a more complete player,” Wright says. “There are times this year we may play him at the point guard spot, out of necessity. He handles the ball, has a good basketball IQ. We’re going to ask him to do everything — shoot the 3, work in pick-and-rolls, post up and defend.”
Junior Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is a solid interior player who can defend, rebound and score close to the hoop, while Jermaine Samuels can score at the 3 but must continue to develop his understanding of the Villanova system. Sophomore Cole Swider came to Villanova with a reputation as a lights-out shooter but struggled from long range and missed the end of the season with a broken hand.
Then there are the newcomers. Robinson-Earl impacts the game in many ways. He has very good hands, rebounds quite well, has solid footwork and a good touch. “What really impresses me are his versatility and basketball IQ,” Wright says. Fellow freshman Eric Dixon is a hard-working rebounder who will do anything to win.
Because Jahvon Quinerly transferred out after an unfulfilling freshman season, there isn’t much depth at guard. The point guard job falls to junior Collin Gillespie, who has demonstrated the ability to run the team and hit long shots but must defend better.
A pair of freshman shooting guards will see big minutes right away. Antoine is a fine athlete who shoots well and can create for himself and others but needs to be more aggressive, while versatile Justin Moore can handle the ball, hit shots and defend four positions. Both must acclimate themselves to the Wildcat system quickly to fill the gaps on the wing. Chris Arcidiacono, brother of 2016 national title team hero Ryan, will provide depth at both guard spots.
The Wildcats have an interesting roster that includes plenty of talented players, but without a scholarship senior on the team and players still proving themselves as leaders, it will take some time for things to come together. If Gillespie can handle the point for 30-35 minutes per game, Bey continues to develop, the freshman wings grow up quickly and the team plays better defense than it did last year, this will be a dangerous group.
Wright likes his roster and should be able to create a Big East contender and a tough NCAA Tournament foe — within the parameters of the Villanova way.
Postseason Prediction: Sweet 16
Big East Prediction: 1st