Jay Wright

What can we expect from the Villanova Wildcats next season?

What can we expect from the Villanova Wildcats next season?

This was supposed to be a big week for Villanova. They were supposed to be preparing for their 15th trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last 16 years. They likely would have been a 2- or 3-seed in the 68-team field, one of a handful of teams with a legitimate shot of winning a national championship.

The Wildcats were playing at a high level entering the postseason. They won seven of their last eight games to secure a share of the Big East regular-season championship. Considering the lack of dominant teams in college basketball, Villanova had every reason to think it could capture the program's third national title in the last five years.

But with college basketball and the rest of the sports world shutting down indefinitely, Jay Wright and co. can only look ahead to next season. And next year could be special. With no scholarship seniors on this year's roster, there's a chance everyone could return for the 2020-21 season. If that happens, Villanova should begin the season ranked in the Top 5.

But several key questions must be answered before the Wildcats and their fans can start dreaming of another national championship.

Will Saddiq Bey return for his junior year?

Bey is coming off a tremendous sophomore season. He led Villanova with 16 points per game and shot 45 percent from three-point range. He was named to the All-Big East First Team and is one of five finalists for the Julius Erving Award, given annually to the best small forward in the country.

At 6-foot-8, he has the size and versatility to be a very good NBA player. He's also an outstanding defender. Not surprisingly, he's projected as a first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. Wright has a history of encouraging his players to leave early for the NBA if they are guaranteed to be a first-round pick. Bey would seem to fall under that category.

Odds are that Bey has played his last game in a Villanova uniform. But there's always a chance he decides to come back. Maybe he wants to settle some unfinished business from this season being cut short. Maybe he wants the opportunity to compete for a national championship with his teammates. Time will tell. But if Bey comes back to school, Villanova will be on everyone's short list of national title contenders.

Can Bryan Antoine have a breakout sophomore season?

There will be a big opportunity for Antoine if Bey leaves for the NBA. Antoine was the headliner of Wright's star-studded 2019 recruiting class. But surgery last spring to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder cost him the entire offseason leading up to his freshman year. He wasn't cleared to play until right before Thanksgiving. Antoine showed some promise early on but was never able to fully catch up to the point where he could perform at a consistently high level. He did not play in eight of the final 11 games of the season.

Antoine's situation is a popular talking point among Villanova fans. Is he unhappy with his lack of playing time? Will he transfer to another school? Both Antoine and Wright seemed to accept the situation for what it was — unfair to ask Antoine to play at a high level after he missed all of the team's offseason and preseason workouts.

Now, he has a full offseason to work out, get stronger and better grasp Villanova's system. Don't be surprised if he returns to the form that made him one of the best high school players in the country.

Will Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore make the leap from good to great?

Villanova's senior class next season will be rock solid. Collin Gillespie should be one of the best players in the country. Jermaine Samuels — arguably the Wildcats' most clutch player — will return for a third season in the starting lineup. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be back as a key bench player and valuable leader.

But next season's sophomores will be the key to just how good Villanova can be. Robinson-Earl had a terrific rookie year that ended with him being named Big East Freshman of the Year. He finished a half-rebound shy of averaging a double-double. His footwork and touch around the basket are excellent. The challenge this offseason will be improving his perimeter jump shot.

Moore was arguably the second-best freshman in the Big East. He was Villanova's third-leading scorer at over 11 points per game. He is a dynamic scoring guard who fits perfectly in Villanova's offense. With a little more consistency, he should develop into one of the best guards in the conference.

Factor in Antoine's upside, and you can see the tremendous potential of next season's sophomore class.

Can the new guys help?

At this point, Villanova isn't expected to have any actual newcomers to the program. Eric Dixon will be a red-shirt freshman after sitting out this past season. Caleb Daniels will be a junior after transferring from Tulane. Both Dixon and Daniels should have the opportunity to earn significant playing time next season.

Dixon was the Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year as a senior at Abington HS. He's a big, powerful forward who hopes to follow in the long line of Villanova players who have benefited from a red-shirt year.

Daniels was Tulane's leading scorer as a sophomore at just under 17 points per game. He's a physical, playmaking guard with a skill set tailor-made for Villanova's system.

Wright will have lots of talent at his disposal next season. The sting of having this season cut short won't subside for a while. But it's easy to get excited about what lies ahead for the Villanova basketball program. 

Jay Wright, more Philly college coaches react to NCAA tournament cancellation

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Jay Wright, more Philly college coaches react to NCAA tournament cancellation

The NCAA's decision Thursday to cancel the upcoming men's and women's Division I basketball tournament (see story) amidst growing concerns about the coronavirus pandemic was historic, and cut short seasons — and, in some cases, careers — for local college hoops programs.

Perhaps most prominently, Villanova's men's basketball team, which just days ago was gearing up to compete in the Big East tournament, will not repeat as Big East champion, nor will the Wildcats pursue their third national title in five years.

Head coach Jay Wright addressed reporters Thursday afternoon, and reacted on camera to the news as he learned about it, which made for a tough and emotional scene for Wright:

Wright later shared the following message on Twitter:

And Villanova isn't the only local program impacted by the abrupt ending to the 2019-20 seasons.

Drexel women's basketball head coach Denise Dillon was fully prepared to coach her team Thursday afternoon in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Dragons were the top-seeded team in the tournament, poised to make a run at the program's second-ever NCAA tournament appearance, and its first since 2009.

Then, just before tip-off against UNC-Wilmington, the game — and tournament — was canceled.

Here's how Dillon said the scene played out, per the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Four minutes left on the clock before the game, a guy came by, said, 'Coach, get your team off the court.' Knowing this was eventually going to happen, it was still a shock. I walked past the refs. They were high fiving, ready to go. I said, 'No, we're done.'

The Inquirer also spoke with legendary Jefferson head coach Herb Magee, whose Rams went 27-4 this year and were set to face Stonehill in the NCAA Division II men's basketball tournament on March 14.

Here's what Magee told his players, per the Inquirer:

The only thing I could tell them, that their season is over. (He told his players) that they had a great year and I am proud of them.

Former St. Joe's head coach and current Michigan assistant Phil Martelli chimed in on the cancellation Thursday night:

Whether the NCAA will give extra years of eligibility to players whose seasons were cut short, and whether the NCAA hopes to reschedule the respective tournaments for later in the year, is currently unclear.

The NHLMLB, NBAMLS and NLL have all suspended their seasons as well.

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Villanova the favorite to win the Big East tournament again

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Villanova the favorite to win the Big East tournament again

The Villanova men’s basketball team has won the Big East conference tournament for the past three years. And according to oddsmakers, they will likely make it a four-peat.

BetRivers.com lists Jay Wright’s squad as +300 (a $100 bet will win you $300) to win the tournament, shorter odds than the two other teams with which they shared the regular season conference title, Seton Hall (+320) and Creighton (+350). If you’re interested in making a wager, be sure to shop around. For example, BetRivers.com offers a better payout on Villanova than, say, FanDuel (+280).

For those of you looking for value, Providence could be a sneaky-good play. The 4-seed in the tournament is listed at +600 by BetRivers.com to take home the hardware. They have beaten each of the top three seeds in the tournament in the regular season, and come in riding a six-game winning streak.

Full odds to win the 2020 Big East Tournament (BetRivers.com):

Villanova: +300
Seton Hall: +320
Creighton: +350
Butler: +500
Providence: +600
Marquette: +700
Xavier: +1800
Georgetown: +2500
St. John’s: +4000
DePaul: +6000