Villanova Wildcats

No. 6 Villanova-Columbia observations: Tons of balance in season-opening win

uspresswire-villanova-eric-paschall.jpg
USA Today Images

No. 6 Villanova-Columbia observations: Tons of balance in season-opening win

BOX SCORE

Although it's ranked No. 6 in the nation, Villanova had a lot of question marks heading into the 2017-18 season.

The Wildcats answered some of them in a 75-60 season-opening defeat of Columbia on Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center, but still have plenty of things to figure out.

• Not surprisingly, it was first-team preseason All-American Jalen Brunson who set the tone for the ’Cats. The junior point guard opened the game with a three and closed the first half with a sweet midrange jumper to give Villanova a 32-23 halftime lead. He finished with 14 points in 34 minutes.

• Eric Paschall, a somewhat surprise addition to the starting lineup, had a couple of dunks and a big block to end the first half, and showed great hustle throughout the game. The Fordham transfer led Villanova with 15 points and could be primed for a big year after being more of a role player last season.

• Phil Booth, back after a season lost to injury, showed a little bit of rust with eight points on 3 of 9 shooting.

• Mikal Bridges had the play of the game midway through the second half, showing off long, gangly arms and athletic ability with an incredible baseline dunk.

• The Wildcats took a lot of threes, as they’re prone to do, but only connected on seven of their 32 attempts.

• Donte DiVincenzo, who didn’t start, was held scoreless in the first half, but helped the Wildcats run away with the game after the break with 13 points.

• Freshman Collin Gillespie, a prized prospect out of the Philadelphia Catholic League, showed off his sweet stroke right away, hitting a couple of three-pointers in the first half to help stave off a pesky Lions squad, including one that broke a 9-9 tie.

• The Wildcats’ other top newcomer, redshirt freshman Omari Spellman, had a tougher start, missing an early gimme and making a lazy pass that led to a turnover and transition Columbia bucket. But the big man, whose first collegiate basket came on a put-back with 5:40 left in the first half, looked far more assertive after the break, with Brunson getting in his ear to offer tips. He ended up with a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.

• Columbia kept it interesting early with top guard Mike Smith helping the Lions tie the game at 9-9 with under 14 minutes left in the first half as ’Nova struggled shooting the basketball. The Lions, who may end up competing with Penn for a berth in the Ivy League Tournament, certainly look like they could be a formidable team in the Ivy League.

• Friday’s game marked the first time in program history that Villanova opened a season at the Wells Fargo Center, because of renovations on its on-campus Pavilion home. There was a bit of a different vibe than the February games the Wildcats usually play here vs. Big East rivals, but the crowd was quite large for a non-conference game and enjoyed singing along with the Villanova band.

• The Wildcats are now 44-32 all-time at the Wells Fargo Center. They have 11 more regular-season contests in the building, including all nine of its Big East home games.

• Columbia shocked Villanova the last time the two teams meet, upsetting it, 75-57, at the Pavilion in 2012.

• Villanova returns to action Tuesday against Nicholls State — a team 323 spots below it in the Pomeroy rankings.

• The Sixers may be out on the West Coast but that didn’t stop a “Trust the Process” chant from breaking out in the final minutes.

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

usa-jalen-brunson-villanova-st-johns.jpg
USA Today Images

Villanova still sitting pretty in the AP poll

Villanova is getting pretty accustomed to this whole No. 1 thing.

For the fifth time in the last six weeks, head coach Jay Wright's Wildcats are No. 1 in the AP poll, receiving 63 of 65 first-place votes this time around. This week's spot on college basketball's top perch came after a successful week that saw the 'Cats smother then-No.10 Xavier, 89-65, on Wednesday evening at the Wells Fargo Center. The Musketeers fell to No. 11 after the defeat. Villanova followed that up by holding off a feisty St. John's squad, 78-71, at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night.

The Wildcats sport this No. 1 ranking heading into their own rivalry week this week. They head to Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to battle historic Big East rival Georgetown, led by first-year head coach and Hoya great Patrick Ewing. The Hoyas are 12-5 on the season, but just 2-4 in conference play. They most recently fell to No. 19 Seton Hall this past Saturday. After that, it's on to Connecticut for an old-school Big East matchup with the Huskies. The teams last met in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament, a game UConn won on its way to the national championship. Villanova, though, holds a 33-31 all-time advantage.

As for the rest of this week's top five, Virginia moved up a spot to No. 2, Purdue jumped up to No. 3, Oklahoma shot up five spots to No. 4. and Duke crept up to No. 5.

Click here to view this week's top 25 poll in its entirety.

No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

ap-dhamir-cosby-roundtree-villanova.jpg
AP Images

No. 1 Villanova holds off St. John's

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Donte DiVincenzo hit six 3-pointers and scored 25 points to help No. 1 Villanova silence a rowdy New York crowd and hold off upset-minded St. John's 78-71 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Shammorie Ponds came close to leading the Red Storm (10-8, 0-6 Big East) to their first win over a No. 1 team in 33 years. Ponds scored a career-high 37 points in front of 17,123 fans at the Garden.

Ponds punished his body as he crashed the lane for tough buckets -- going up-and-under and seemingly straight through defenders -- over the final 10 minutes that cut it to 69-65 with 1:18 left. He sank a rare jumper (all his field goals were 2-pointers) that pulled St. John's within 71-67, and suddenly the chants of "Let's Go Nova!" were drowned out by cheers for the Red Storm.

The Wildcats (16-1, 4-1) were flawless from the free-throw line over the final minute to avoid the startling upset.

Ponds, a 6-foot-1 guard who scored 31 points against Missouri in November, took just about every shot for the Red Storm down the stretch.

Once called the Michael Jordan of Delaware by coach Jay Wright, DiVincenzo simply wouldn't let the Red Storm get too close. Each time St. John's seemed set to start a game-changing run over the final 7 minutes, DiVincenzo buried 3s, hitting three that gave the Wildcats leads of nine, 10 and 11.

Mikal Bridges had 15 points and 11 rebounds for Villanova. The Wildcats went 13-for-30 on 3-point range.

Ponds was a one-man band for St. John's. No other player scored in double figures and his 15 baskets were two more than the rest of the team.

Jalen Brunson and Bridges hit 3s early in the second half to start to build a cushion and DiVincenzo added another 3 for a 10-point lead. That completed a torrid stretch of eight 3s on Villanova's last eight attempts.

St. John's hit one 3 the entire game -- one! -- and that snuffed any chance at a win. St. John's hung around for most of the first half and put checks in the boxes of things needed to do to beat Villanova.

Tariq Owens had a big block on Bridges under the basket that brought a packed MSG crowd to its feet. Bryan Trimble Jr. buried a 3 for a 20-17 lead and Brunson, one of the top players in the nation, fumbled the ball on the next possession. The Wildcats, who have seemingly fixed the defensive troubles that plagued them the last month, lost their 3-point stroke, missing 8 of their first 10 attempts.

The Wildcats pulled themselves together and showed why they're again the elite team in the Big East. DiVincenzo hit two 3s and scored eight straight points to give them the lead for good and Omari Spellman hit a 3 to send Villanova into halftime with a 34-27 lead.

BIG PICTURE
St. John's: Yes, the Red Storm were actually 10-2 on Dec. 20 and off to one of their best starts in two decades before this tailspin started. The Red Storm lost all three games on this homestand and there's little sign there will be an immediate turnaround. St. John's hasn't defeated a No. 1 team since Chris Mullin was in uniform, not the coach. St. John's beat No. 1 Georgetown 66-65 on Jan. 26, 1985.

Villanova: The Wildcats won their 13th straight game in the series. Villanova, the 2016 national champions, is rolling toward its fifth straight Big East regular season championship.

UP NEXT
Villanova puts its No. 1 ranking on the line Wednesday at Georgetown.

The Red Storm play another Top 25 team when they visit No. 10 Xavier on Wednesday.