Jalen Brunson

Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

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Villanova picked to win Big East in preseason coaches' poll

For the fourth year in a row, Villanova was picked to win the Big East in the league's preseason coaches' poll.

The Wildcats received eight of the 10 possible first-place votes in the poll, which was released on Wednesday and doesn't allow coaches to vote for their own teams. Seton Hall and Xavier received the other two first-place votes.

Villanova finished the 2016-2017 season with a 15-3 record in the Big East, good for first place in the conference, and capped it off with the Big East tournament crown.

The Wildcats finished last season with a 32-4 record overall and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The team returns two starters from last season, including forward Mikal Bridges, who was picked for the All-Big East second team, and point guard Jalen Brunson, who was selected as the 2017-2018 Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Brunson's averages of 14.7 points and 4.1 assists led him to an All-Big East first team selection in 2016-2017.

Sophomore guard Donte DiVincenzo, who averaged 8.8 points and 3.8 rebounds per game on his way to making the Big East all-freshman team, is another returning player that will play a big factor for 'Nova. The Wildcats also add freshman forward Omari Spellman to the mix after he redshirted last season. Spellman was picked in the coaches' poll as the preseason Freshman of the Year.

Jay Wright's squad tips off the 2017-18 season on Nov. 10 against Columbia.

Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

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Villanova basketball notes, quotes and tidbits: Donte DiVincenzo poised for bigger role

VILLANOVA, Pa. — For the first time since its 65-62 loss to No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Villanova’s men’s basketball team took the court in front of a live audience.

The Wildcats and head coach Jay Wright held their annual Blue and White Scrimmage Saturday at Jake Nevin Field House in front of a crowd of about 1,000.

With the Pavilion undergoing a $60 million renovation project, Villanova will play a majority of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center this season.

During the course of the scrimmage, Wright held some intrasquad games and mixed in some drills, essentially an amplified version of a normal practice.

Wright, entering his 17th season on the Main Line, was mic'd up for the scrimmage and ultimately was pleased with the event. 

“(Saturday's) scrimmage was good for us and it was a really valuable experience,” Wright said. “We got to play some game situations in front of a crowd, which was our very first time this season with this group. Getting the game speed with the referees was good.”

DiVincenzo poised for huge season
If the 2017 NCAA Tournament was any indication of Donte DiVincenzo’s basketball future at Villanova, Wildcats fans have a lot to look forward to.

The then-redshirt freshman averaged a team-high 18 points against Mount St. Mary’s and Wisconsin. DiVincenzo showed a lot of composure and promise on the big stage. 

DiVincenzo said the end of the 2017 season was huge for his confidence and pushed him to be even better.

“Playing with three good seniors in Josh [Hart], Kris [Jenkins] and Darryl [Reynolds] last year was important,” DiVincenzo said. "They were pumping me up all year and when it came down to it, things started flowing for me. Losing early in the NCAA Tournament gave me so much more drive to work harder in the offseason especially after losing three great players.”

It was no different at the Blue and White scrimmage on Saturday. DiVincenzo showed great vision and great bounce off of the dribble in a strong showing.

While there were pauses in the scrimmage and drills filtered in between, DiVincenzo put together a solid performance. He hit four three-pointers and made three layups.

He also showed his strength in the paint on an and-one where he collided with redshirt sophomore forward Tim Delaney and was able to convert the floater.

DiVincenzo’s court vision stood out immediately. He was able to penetrate into the lane and kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks from behind the arc on multiple occasions.

“A lot stands out to me about Donte,” junior guard Jalen Brunson said. “His work ethic has grown and he has become a tremendously better player. You guys saw his ability today and it is only going to get better. His playmaking ability stands out. He is not always looking to score and likes to get his teammates involved.”

After seeing success on the court that resulted in Big East All-Freshman team honors as well as the Big 5 Rookie of the Year, DiVincenzo didn’t get complacent in the offseason.

He focused on improving his shooting and ball handling. The guard from Wilmington, Delaware, spent a majority of his time in the weight room getting stronger.

“It is exciting to see Donte grow and continue to want to improve,” Wright said. “He finished strong last year and he did not relax in the offseason. He went to work and wanted to get better and you can see the improvement in everything he does — his ball handling, his shooting and his confidence level.”

'Nova’s versatility
Villanova showed its versatility Saturday, featuring a small-ball lineup and the ability to play big as well.

The Wildcats' guards are athletic and long, which can pose problems for opposing offenses. Brunson, freshman Collin Gillespie and redshirt junior Phil Booth are all 6-foot-3 and DiVincenzo is the tallest at 6-5.

“We are very versatile this year,” Brunson said. “We have guys that can drive and we have guys that can spot up. Everyone has a strength but we are working on all aspects of our game. All the hard work we have been putting in this summer will pay off when the season comes.”

The guards can spread the floor and are knock-down shooters as well. Gillespie, who connected on a couple of three-point attempts Saturday, looks to be a key contributor for Wright’s squad this season.

“I think our versatility is one of our strengths,” Wright said. “We have a number of guys that can play a number of different positions and are willing to do it. Mikal [Bridges], Eric [Paschall], Donte [DiVincenzo] and Jermaine [Samuels] are capable and willing to play one through four.”

Extra notes
• Freshman Omari Spellman, who missed last season because of an academic redshirt mandated by the NCAA, and Booth, who missed all but three games because of left knee inflammation, didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Wright said Spellman is dealing with a bone bruise and Booth is dealing with “annoying tendinitis” in his left knee.

• Wright was asked about the difference between entering this season and the 2016-2017 campaign when Villanova was fresh off a national championship.

 “I think we have been given a lot more freedom in terms of expectations and attention, which is kind of nice,” Wright said. “It was alright the other way, too. We are a lot more relaxed around here but I wouldn’t trade it for coming off a championship. I also think this team is different. It is a lot less experienced than we have had and I think we have a chance to be good by the end but we may not look as good early.”

• Freshman Jermaine Samuels hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final intrasquad scrimmage.

• DiVincenzo showed his defensive capabilities on a strip of Brunson, resulting in a layup on the fast break. He also blocked Brunson at the rim.

• Villanova opens its season Nov. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center against Columbia.

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Jalen Brunson explains decision to return to Villanova: 'Process was simple'

Over the past month, there has been plenty of speculation as to whether or not Jalen Brunson would decide to stay at Villanova or turn pro.

For Brunson himself, though, it was never really much of a decision.

"The process was simple," Brunson told CSNPhilly.com by phone a couple of hours after Villanova announced that the star point guard would return for his junior year (see story). "I told myself and I told my family when I came here that I wanted to try to compete and win a national championship and I want to get my degree. I did one of those things, which was probably the harder part of the deal. Now I just want to get my degree."

Brunson, a freshman on the Wildcats' 2015-16 national championship team, is poised to get that degree at the end of his junior year, thanks to the emphasis he puts on education, the encouragement of Villanova's staff and a whole lot of summer classes.

Only then will he begin to look at the next chapter of his basketball journey.

"I just think with the support I have here, they all know that this is what I want to do," said Brunson, a communications major with a 3.54 grade-point average and a recent recipient of the Big 5 Scholar Athlete of the Year award. "No one has put me down saying, 'No, I don't think it's possible, I don't think you should do it.' They really encouraged me to do so and they really helped me along the way."

There were, of course, basketball factors that led to Brunson's return, as well. The rising junior loves everything about the 'Nova program and said he's excited for the opportunity to "lead the team" as an upperclassman.

And even with Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds moving on, he believes the Wildcats will remain a force after going a combined 67-9 in his first two collegiate seasons.

"Maybe we won't have the record we've had the past couple of years," said Brunson, who averaged 14.7 points and 4.1 assists per game last season. "But I know one thing: we're gonna play Villanova basketball when we're on the court. And I think the reason for the is we're gonna have another set of leaders that brings that to the table every time we step on the court."

With Brunson coming back and Phil Booth returning from an injury-riddled 2016-17 campaign, the Wildcats will certainly be loaded at the guard position next year. Brunson is especially eager to potentially share the same backcourt as Donte DiVincenzo, who came off the bench last season but looks poised to become one of the program's next big stars.

"I'm definitely looking forward to that," Brunson said. "I've been looking forward to that ever since we met. … We have a relationship. We're really close. And I think our chemistry helps us on the court. So coming back and playing with him again is definitely going to be a plus, and I'm just really excited for the opportunity."