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.