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Big East Preseason Profile: Villanova Wildcats

The Rumble chats with VU Hoops to preview the Wildcats upcoming season.

Big East Men’s Basketball Championship Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Villanova 2019 Record: 26-10, 13-5 Big East (NCAA Tournament 2nd Round, lost to Purdue)

2020 Returning Minutes percentage: 53.0%

Graduated Seniors: Phil Booth (G), Joe Cremo (G), Eric Paschall (F)

Early departures/ transfers: Jahvon Quinerly (G), Dylan Painter (C), Tim Delaney (F)

Incoming talent: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (5* F), Bryan Antoine (5* guard), Eric Dixon (4* F), Justin Moore (4* guard), Chris Arcidiacono

Likely top 6: G Collin Gillespie (JR), Jermaine Samuels (JR), Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (JR), Saddiq Bey (SO), Justin Moore (FR), Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (FR)

Villanova last season:

Behind three seniors and a bunch of sophomores and freshmen, the Wildcats shook off late season struggles to win the Big East Tournament and a game in the NCAA Tournament. Still, the three-point happy Wildcats fell short of their usual defensive excellence. The Wildcats spent six years as a top-30 defense in college basketball, points per possession allowed, adjusted for opponent — until last year, where the Wildcats ranked 81st.

How will this roster shake out? There are a number of rangy tall players... but a noted lack of playmaking guards.

To answer a few questions about the Wildcats we spoke with Chris Lane of VU Hoops.

Rumble: Villanova lost 10 games last year, something they haven’t done since 2012-13 when they lost 14 games. The Wildcats are always a threat to win the Big East, but are they a legitimate national championship contender?

VU Hoops: Right now, absolutely not. And I’m shocked to see them as high in the rankings as they are in some places. By the the time we get to March Madness, we might be looking at them differently.

Losing Phil Booth and Eric Paschall feels like we’ve finally turned the page on the dynasty that dominated for the past 5 years, so there will be growing pains early since the team was so reliant on them for offense last season. It’ll fall on the shoulders of Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (all members - but not major contributors - of the 2018 National Championship team) to keep the winning culture going, but they’ll have plenty of help coming in.

Saddiq Bey was the breakout player of last season and will be expected to play a major role this season. Jay Wright is also bringing in multiple 5-star recruits in forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and guard Bryan Antoine. However, the latter is out until at least December, which is why I don’t think we’ll really know what the ‘Cats can be until we get to conference play.

Rumble: Villanova has another Arcidiacono. Why do you keep doing this to us?

VU Hoops: Did you know the Arcidiacono’s have six kids? Panicking yet? You can relax as Chris is the last of the boys, but have fun with him giving you PTSD the next 4 years. While he’s not as heralded as his older brother was (a Top-50 recruit), he’s no slouch either. He’s got good size and was an extremely productive player in high school. It’s a little cliche, but it is hard to quantify the intangiles of a kid who comes from a family this invested in Villanova as well. He may not make an immediate impact like Ryan but we all expect he’ll be a part of the solution in the coming years.

Rumble: The Wildcats beat out Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, and Florida for the 5-star guard Bryan Antoine. How do you expect him to fit in the rotation this year? Additionally, what are your expectations for him this year?

VU Hoops: As mentioned, Antoine played through a bad shoulder injury in high school and had surgery this offseason that will keep him out until at least December. So it’ll be a while until we see what he’s capable of and the long layoff has us tempering our expectations to be fair to him.

When Antoine is fully healthy though, he’s an electric scorer and his length and quickness should make him plus defender down the line. Pre-injury, I would have said he’s a potential starter but he’ll likely come off the bench this season as he gets up to speed. Looking around, the team will need some bellcows on offense and Antoine has the potential to help there.

Rumble: Who needs to step up for Villanova in the front court? How do you think the Wildcats front court will compare to other teams in the Big East?

VU Hoops: All eyes appear to be on freshmen Jeremiah Robinson-Earl who is absolutely fantastic. He’s extremely polished and skilled offensively and an active defender. He’s got the bloodlines and pedigree as well (his father played at Kansas), and he’s generally a winner (high school National Champion and USA gold medalist this Summer).

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree is the elder statesmen of the group, but struggled for consistency last season while battling an injury. If he’s healthy he could join Robinson-Earl to form a more traditional frontcourt if matchups dictate it. And I do think they’ll see the need to go there in the Big East.

Freshman Eric Dixon is undersized but again, very skilled and polished offensively. Jermaine Samuels, Cole Swider and Saddiq Bey will get some run when Villanova goes to the 5-out offense that is a terror to deal with when it is clicking.

There’s a lot of youth and some major unknowns/ assumptions above, but at the very least they appear to have the depth and flexibility that they haven’t had in years past.

Rumble: Villanova has been one of the best offensive teams in country for about five years now. How does Jay Wright consistently harbor a very effective offensive unit? Will the offense take a step back without Phil Booth?

VU Hoops: Jay Wright preaches a pro-style offense that gives a lot (at times arguably too much) freedom to the players to make decisions. If you missed this in-depth look by NBC’s Rob Dauster on Villanova’s offense, definitely read it as it explores how and why Villanova can be so deadly. The big thing here though is the decisions are on the players. It looks Hall of Fameish when a legend like Jalen Brunson is in charge. We’ve seen it look just as bad when you don’t have a lot of seniority on the roster.

Last season the offense went back and forth between extremely awesome and extremely ugly last season, and a lot of that was the youth differing to Booth and Paschall who were forced to do it themselves too often. It yielded the results you’d expect and good defensive teams (hi Michigan) were able to expose Villanova badly. In a weird way, losing Booth and Paschall may allow Villanova to get back to their ball-sharing roots. I expect it to come with some growing pains.

Rumble: Again, without Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, where will the Wildcats three-point shooting come from?

VU Hoops: Collin Gillespie is a legitimate sniper, and Bryan Antoine and Cole Swider have the shooting pedigree as well. But the expectation in the program is that everybody can shoot. The only guy I don’t think has that in his locker is Cosby-Roundtree, but both Robinson-Earl and Dixon can step out and knock them down if left open. The biggest issue with Villanova last season was the lack of ball movement (and off-ball player movement). If they can get back to the type of fluid offense they ran in years past, there will be plenty of open shots.

Rumble: Which player will breakout this year?

VU Hoops: Other than Robinson-Earl/ Bryan Antoine, Cole Swider looks like a popular pick among the fanbase.

Personally, I think freshmen guard Justin Moore has a chance to make an early impact, especially with Bryan Antoine sidelined for the first 6-8 weeks and ‘Nova needling ball-handling help in the backcourt. Moore is the prototypical Villanova recruit - his DMV roots (DeMatha + Team Takeover) give him a high basketball IQ, he’s physically ready to play (think Josh Hart), skilled on offense and a dog on defense. Those are the kinds of things that get you on the court early for Jay Wright, and I think there’s a good shot he wins some early PT.

Rumble: Predicted win total this season?

VU Hoops: Back of the napkin, they’ll likely drop 2-4 games in OOC with tough games away at Ohio State and home to Kansas. In conference, probably lose 5-6 if they’re competing for the title. So I think they’re at least a 20-win team this season, and then it is just about how far they can go in the Big East/ NCAA Tournament.