Villanova Wildcats

Villanova football set for new era with 'Andy Talley 2.0' at the helm

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Dave Zeitlin/CSNPhilly.com Contributor

Villanova football set for new era with 'Andy Talley 2.0' at the helm

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Mark Ferrante walks underneath a huge sign that reads “Andrew J. Talley Athletic Center” every day. His coach’s office is in a suite named after Talley. And Talley himself is just down the hall from him, in his new administrative role at Villanova University.

All of which is to say that Ferrante is not going to be able to escape Talley’s shadow anytime soon.

Luckily for the first-year Villanova head football coach, he doesn’t want to.

“Coach Talley built this thing from the ground up when he got here in ’84 and he did a great job with the program,” Ferrante said Tuesday during his first media day at the Wildcats’ helm after serving as Talley’s assistant at ’Nova for the last 27 years. “If the winning formula and the successful formula is in place, why would you want to change anything? 

“He and I have been together a long time so he’s taught me how to do things, as far as the recruiting aspect of things, as far as running the program, as far as everything he’s developed into the culture of the program. So there are not gonna be a lot of changes from that perspective.”

Surely, though, it must feel different as Villanova prepares to begin the 2017 season — with a road game at Lehigh on Sept. 2 followed by a city showdown at Temple the next week — without Talley running the show?

The common sentiment among players during media day may have been surprising: No, no really.

“I feel like it’s more hyped up on the outside than it is on the inside,” senior linebacker Ed Shockley said. “In here, not much has changed. We still have the same coaches, the same meeting times. Everything is really similar. For us, it’s not really a big change. We lost Coach Talley and that’s a great loss. But in actuality, it’s not that much of a loss because they’re so similar. He’s Andy Talley 2.0 in a way.”

Shockley, a preseason All-CAA selection who led a dominant defense last season, is confident the Wildcats can pick up right where they left off in Talley’s final season, as they charged into the second round of the 2016 FCS playoffs before bowing out to national power South Dakota State.

That was one of 12 playoff appearances for Talley, who won 230 games during his 32 years on the Main Line. And now, judging by the fact that they’ll come into the 2017 season ranked No. 10 in the FCS, the expectations remain just as high after the coaching shuffle.

That said, Shockley did notice a few subtle differences when this year’s training camp opened.

“They’re very similar as far as their coaching styles but as far as their personalities, Coach Talley was a little more old school,” the linebacker said. “Coach Ferrante is a little more in-tune to modern day and what we like now.”

Of course, Talley is still around the program, sometimes even stopping to watch practice, or chat with players in the sparkling new facility that bears his name. That’s not an issue for Ferrante, who occasionally will lean on his old mentor for help.

“We’re not getting away from Andy Talley for the foreseeable future,” he said. “And he has an office right down the hall, which is great. It’s invaluable to have him in the building because there are things that will come up. There have been a couple already. Nothing too crazy but I’ll go in there, sit down, bounce some ideas off him, how he’d handle a situation. To have a guy like that who’s done it, as successfully as he’d done it, I think it’s great to have him around.”

In truth, Ferrante has been learning from Talley for the last three decades. And through much of that stretch, Talley has also prepared Ferrante to be a head coach, paving the way for what’s been a smooth transition (and one that neighbor Penn has shown can be successful with Ray Priore winning a piece of the last two Ivy League championships after serving as Al Bagnoli’s longtime assistant).

In some ways, the only thing that’s different for Ferrante is his official title. And he hopes few other things change — particularly the winning.

“They’ve heard me before,” Ferrante said. “I’ve spoke to the team before. Coach [Talley] put me in as the head coach of situations in years prior to now. I’ve handled banquets. I’ve been to media days. Coach has sent me to head coach’s meetings in his absence for various reasons. I’ve spoke in front of the team to break down a practice or to start a practice or in a team meeting. 

“So for the returning players, they’ve heard that before. Now they’re just hearing it more frequently.”

Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

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Villanova moves up to No. 1 in the nation

If you're looking for a sliver of good news on a depressing day in Philly sports, Villanova is now the No. 1 team in the nation.

The 10-0 Wildcats moved up to the top spot in Monday's AP poll, receiving 41 of 65 first-place votes.

Michigan State, Wichita State, Duke and Arizona State round out the top five, in that order (see Top 25).

Duke, the unanimous No. 1 team the last two Mondays, lost 89-84 on Saturday at Boston College.

Last week's No. 2 team, Kansas, moved down to No. 13 after losing twice last week to Washington and Arizona State.

Villanova plays twice this week — at Temple on Wednesday for a Big 5 showdown, then vs. Hofstra on Friday night. Those are the Wildcats' last two non-conference games before they begin Big East play on Dec. 27 at DePaul.

Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

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Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth help No. 4 Villanova survive La Salle scare

BOX SCORE

Duke's run at No. 1 ended with a court-storming loss at Boston College and No. 2 Kansas wilted in a rare home loss.

Undaunted and undefeated, Villanova is charging toward the top spot.

"We played the next No. 1 team in the country," La Salle coach John Giannini said Sunday.

The Explorers got a taste of how tough it can be to knock off the Wildcats. La Salle scored more baskets, sank more 3-pointers, had more steals and still was just another victim in Villanova's unbeaten season.

Phil Booth scored 18 points and Donte DiVincenzo had 18 points and 10 rebounds to help the fourth-ranked Wildcats avoid an upset in a 77-68 win over La Salle.

"They don't have bad games," Giannini said.

This was as close as one gets for the Wildcats (10-0). They were sloppy -- throwing the ball away several times on outlet passes -- slumped from the 3-point line and could not shake the pesky Explorers until the final minutes of the game to win their 21st straight Big 5 game.

The Wildcats had depth and a massive edge from the free-throw line to sink the Explorers. La Salle (5-6) was a two-man show in B.J Johnson and Amar Stukes, and that was enough to give them a 62-61 lead with 4:47 left.

But the Wildcats had Booth and DiVincenzo, and Jalen Brunson scored 17 and Mikal Bridges, quiet all game, came to life for crucial baskets late to seal the win. Throw in the whopping disparity from the line -- Villanova made 27 of 35, La Salle was 4 of 5 -- and the Wildcats made their case for why they should fight it out with No 3. Michigan State (9-1) to become the new No. 1 team in the AP Top 25.

"It's a great lesson for our guys. The score isn't always what the game is really about," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Booth put the Wildcats ahead with three free throws and followed with an assist on DiVincenzo's 3-pointer that made it 67-62 and finally gave them a bit of breathing room. Bridges, coming off a career-high 28 points against Gonzaga, went inside for a pair of tough buckets and a 71-64 lead that brought the Villanova fans to their feet.

"These guys have played in these games. They're not surprised," Wright said.

Johnson led the Explorers with 21 points and Stukes had 16 to help keep slim hopes alive of pulling off a stunner. The duo combined to hit seven 3-pointers and carried La Salle to the brink of victory.

"When we're out there and we started making plays, we felt like we could do that against anybody," Stukes said. "The shots started falling. We just had to play defense."

The Wildcats beat No. 12 Gonzaga by 16 points this week at Madison Square Garden and were expected to roll against the Explorers at the Wells Fargo Center. The foundation for their perfect record had come from the 3-point line; the Wildcats hit a school-record 19 against Saint Joseph's and buried 10 against the Zags. Against the Explorers, the 3s dried up in the first half. Villanova missed its first six attempts and missed eight of 10 overall in the half.

La Salle went the opposite direction in the first half. Shooting a miserable 29 percent from 3-point range this season, the Explorers went 6 of 12 to take a 38-37 lead. Stukes hit two straight 3s and his bucket a tick before the horn gave La Salle the lead at the break.

Villanova, La Salle, Saint Joseph's, Temple and Penn make up the city series field. The Wildcats have emerged as the class of the city and haven't been defeated by a Philadelphia-area team since Temple won on Dec. 5, 2012.

Big picture
La Salle: The Explorers lost for the 15th time in the last 16 games against Villanova. But a lot of teams lose all the time to `Nova. It's what the Explorers do from here that will define their season. They have two more nonconference games to shape up before they open the Atlantic 10 season Dec. 30 against St. Louis. The Explorers haven't made the NCAA Tournament since 2013 and will need more consistent performances like they had in the first half to get there again this season.

Villanova: The Wildcats win again. Even when the score is close, the outcome never seems in doubt against a city school. Los Angeles Lakers rookie Josh Hart, one of the stars of the 2016 national championship team, sat courtside and earned a standing ovation as the alum of the game. He trash-talked Johnson in the second half and laughed when the La Salle forward buried a bucket after their exchange.

Ouch
Villanova played without G Collin Gillespie because of a left wrist injury suffered in practice.

Up next
La Salle: Hosts Mercer on Sunday.

Villanova: The Wildcats finish the Big 5 season Wednesday at Temple.