Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo the next Josh Hart? Jay Wright believes so

NEW YORK — It’s hard to imagine higher praise from Jay Wright.

“I think he can be a Josh Hart,” Wright said. “I really do.”

Donte DiVincenzo is only two months into his redshirt freshman season at Villanova, and his coach is already comparing him to one of the heroes of last year’s NCAA championship team and a 2017 National Player of the Year candidate.

That’s pretty wild stuff, but it’s hard to argue with Wright.

The last two games have been a coming out for DiVincenzo, a Wilmington, Delaware native who played high school ball at Salesianum.

After scoring 20 points and shooting 5 for 17 in Villanova’s first four Big East games, DiVincenzo was 4 for 6 for 10 points with four rebounds and three assists Tuesday in a win over No. 15 Xavier at The Pavilion. On Saturday at Madison Square Garden — with his teammates all struggling from the field — he shot 7 for 10 from the field and 3 for 5 from three-point range for a career-high 19 points to go with three rebounds and two assists in the Wildcats’ win over St. John’s (see game recap).

Hart as a freshman? 7.8 points, 4.4 rebounds and 0.9 assists in 21 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo so far as a freshman? 7.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 23 minutes per game.

DiVincenzo has been so good in these last two wins that, even coming off the bench, he’s played the third most minutes on the team – 31 ½ per game.

Josh Hart-esque.

“I talked to him about that before,” Wright said. “Just what impresses us so much about Josh is that he’s just complete. He does everything. There’s nothing on the basketball court he doesn’t do, and I think Donte can be that kind of player, too.”

On Saturday at the Garden, Villanova got off to another slow start. Ten minutes into the game, the Wildcats were shooting 2 for 12 from the field and 1 for 7 from three-point range and trailed by six.

It sure seemed DiVincenzo sensed how badly the Wildcats needed an offensive lift, because he proceeded to make four baskets in a five-minute stretch, including two confident looks from 3.

Those 10 points keyed a 16-6 run that gave ‘Nova the lead for good.

But DiVincenzo, echoing dozens of Villanova players from years past, said he never thinks offensively.

“No, not at all,” he said. “I don’t feel pressure offensively at all. Just focus on defending and rebounding. If the shots are falling for me, great. But if they’re not, just get back and focus on those two things.”

DiVincenzo is a freshman but did play in eight games last year before breaking his foot and sitting out the rest of the year. He did travel with the Wildcats and was on the bench during the NCAA title run.

Now, he’s the biggest surprise on the No. 3 team in the country. Villanova takes a 17-1 record and 4-1 Big East mark into a game Monday night at The Pavilion against Seton Hall, their first meeting since the Pirates beat the Wildcats in last year’s Big East title game.

Think about it.

‘Nova is down two players who Wright expected to be huge parts of this year’s team — title game hero Phil Booth, who's hurt and not expected back this year, and Amari Spellman, whom the NCAA ruled ineligible.

“We’re trying to get to a certain level of play,” Wright said. “We’re trying to figure ourselves out here. We thought we were going to be one kind of team earlier in the season and we lost a couple guys. We like our team, but we’re still trying to figure it out. We’re not a finished product yet.”

In six Big East games, DiVincenzo is averaging 8.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.2 assists.

No Villanova freshman has averaged 8.0 points, 2.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists in conference play since Lance Miller in 1990.

Overall, DiVincenzo is eighth among Big East freshmen in scoring, seventh in minutes, rebounding, assists and three-point shooting.

And trending upward.

“We’re really excited about him,” Wright said. “He’s doing everything for us. He’s playing point, he’s playing two-guard, he’s playing the three, he’s rebounding, defending, and that’s the kind of players you like to have.

“He’s only a freshman, and he works hard at it. Those two (DiVincenzo and Hart) compete against each other at practice, and he’s got the same competitiveness, so it’s exciting for us. We’re really fired up.

“And you’ve got to do it in games. We all know it’s going to come sometimes, but you’ve got to do it in games. Do it in the Garden? Against a tough aggressive team? Did it in the Xavier game? That’s big-time.”

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

Villanova, Penn with polar opposite NCAA Tournament draws

No surprises on the Main Line and well, the Quakers have quite the hill to climb to advance.

Villanova on Sunday night was awarded the 1-seed in the East Region and will face the winner of the LIU Brooklyn/Radford game Thursday in Pittsburgh. Tip-off is scheduled for 6:50 p.m. on TNT.

The Wildcats have been a top-two seed since 2014 and it's the second straight year they're a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova was the No. 1 overall seed in last year's tournament.

Penn was named the 16th seed in the Midwest Region and will face the No. 1-seeded Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday at 2 p.m. on TBS in Wichita, Kansas.

Steve Donahue has the Quakers back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007 in his third season as Penn's head coach.

The Quakers are 24-8 and this will be their 24th-ever appearance in the tournament.

'Nova survived a scare from Providence on Saturday night to win its second straight Big East title and its third in the past four years.

If the Wildcats beat LIU Brooklyn/Radford, they'll face the winner of the No. 8-seeded Virginia Tech and No. 9 seed Alabama. Purdue is the No. 2 seed in the East.

Also in the East are No. 3 Texas Tech and No. 4 Wichita State.

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

USA Today Images

Penn aims to end 11-year drought this weekend

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend's local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. With the regular season ending this weekend, this will be the final Fastbreak Friday column of the season.

Temple (16-13, 8-9 AAC) at Tulsa (18-11, 11-6 AAC), Sunday at 3 p.m.
 It’s been a rough season for the Temple Owls. Yes, there was that win over ranked Wichita State in the middle of a 5-game win streak. But after the stumbles down the stretch, that seems like a distant memory. 

Of course, the bad can be washed away with an AAC tournament run, but first, the Owls need to close out on the road against Tulsa. 

Given their track record on the road, things don’t line up well for Fran Dunphy’s crew. Plus, it’s dollar dog, dollar soda and dollar popcorn night at Tulsa. That’s a delicious trifecta. 

But there is still some fight in this team. Quintin Rose and Shizz Alston have been everything the Owls have needed, and throw in Nate Pierre-Louis and you have a nice core back for next season.

Temple 71,  Tulsa 70

Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Yale (14-14, 7-5 Ivy), Friday at 7 p.m.
Pennsylvania (21-7, 11-1 Ivy) at Brown (11-14, 4-8 Ivy), Saturday at 6 p.m.
Penn enters the final weekend of the regular season in control of its own destiny. If the Quakers beat Yale and Brown on the road they'll win their first Ivy League championship since 2007 and earn the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, which will be played at the Palestra next weekend. It all adds up to Penn having the inside track to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 11 years.

This seems like an appropriate time to salute the job done by head coach Steve Donahue. In just his third season at Penn, he has the Quakers poised to reclaim top billing in the Ivy League. He inherited a team that finished 9-19 in the 2014-2015 season and promptly began a swift rebuilding project. Penn went 11-17 in Donahue's first season, 13-14 in his second year, and now stand at 21-7 overall and 11-1 in conference play. Look for those winning ways to continue this weekend and for Donahue and company to do some celebrating.

Penn 73, Yale 66
Penn 69, Brown 60

La Salle (13-17, 7-10 A-10) at St. Joseph's (14-15, 9-8 A-10), Saturday at 2 p.m.
La Salle and St. Joe's will each try to keep the good times rolling heading into next week's A-10 Tournament. La Salle has won three of its last four games, including a convincing 18-point win over Dayton earlier this week. St. Joseph's meanwhile has a 5-1 record in its last six games and just recorded arguably one of the most stunning victories of this college basketball season.

The Hawks went on the road and beat No. 18 Rhode Island, 78-48, on Tuesday, spoiling the Rams' senior night in the process. It was the first road win over a ranked team for St. Joseph's since 1979 and it came in shockingly easy fashion. I expect the Hawks to build on that momentum this weekend and avenge a three-point loss to La Salle earlier this season.

St. Joseph's 74, La Salle 68 

Drexel (12-19, 6-12 CAA) at James Madison (10-21, 6-12 CAA), Saturday at 4 p.m. in first round of CAA Tournament
The Dragons' season has been marked with highs and lows. While it may seem like a marginal improvement — with 12 wins to their credit compared to nine last season — they did double their conference win total. 

Also, Drexel beat the top two teams in the CAA this season as well as set an NCAA Division-I record for the largest comeback ever when they erased a 34-point deficit against Delaware. 

But the Dragons did have two separate losing streaks that would cause any coach to lose sleep, one of five straight and the other of four straight losses. 

Drexel begins the quest for its first-ever CAA tournament title against JMU, then Charleston awaits on basically home turf. Go ahead and make it a baker’s dozen, Dragons. 

Drexel 76, JMU 74

Prediction Records
Sean Kane: 30-11
Amy Fadool: 22-21