Villanova Wildcats

5 biggest factors for Villanova in its title defense

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5 biggest factors for Villanova in its title defense

Villanova begins its national title defense with a visit from Morgan State on Tuesday. It will be the first game played at the newly-renovated Finneran Pavilion and will mark the start of the Wildcats' quest to win a third national championship in the last four years. 

Jay Wright's program has established itself as college basketball's standard-bearer over the last half decade. Villanova has won 165 games over the last five years, the most wins during any five-year period in the history of the sport. It's a stretch that's seen the Wildcats win four Big East regular-season championships, three Big East Tournament titles and two national championships.  
 
Here are the five biggest factors that will impact Villanova's chances of becoming the first program since UCLA 45 years ago to win three national titles in four years.

Booth and Paschall leading the way

Villanova expected to lose National Player of the Year Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges to the NBA last summer. But Wright was banking on having Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman back in the fold for at least one more season. But DiVincenzo and Spellman shined during the NCAA Tournament and earned their way into the first round of the NBA draft. That left Villanova with a sizable void in both production and leadership.
 
Fifth-year seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall will be asked to fill the bulk of that void. Booth was a vital part of Villanova's 2016 and 2018 national championship teams. He is one of the best guards in the Big East and will lead the Wildcats' perimeter-oriented attack. Paschall blossomed into a key cog in Villanova's offense last spring, culminating with his 24-point performance against Kansas in the Final Four. Now Booth and Paschall make the transition to go-to guys. Wright believes Booth and Paschall have the potential to become two of the best leaders he's ever had.

The sophomores as X-factors

Wright says his sophomore class will be the X-factor this season. Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree each played significant minutes off the bench during last year's title run. Jermaine Samuels was in the rotation before breaking his hand at the beginning of conference play. All three will be leaned on heavily as Villanova tries to replace the quartet of Brunson, Bridges, DiVincenzo and Spellman.
 
Gillespie will begin the season in the starting lineup and is poised for a big sophomore year. Cosby-Roundtree will get plenty of opportunities for a team lacking interior scoring options. But the real key here is Samuels. He showed flashes last year as a freshman and has the talent to develop into the next dynamic Villanova small forward.

Are the freshmen ready?

Big East Preseason Co-Freshman of the Year Jahvon Quinerly headlines a star-studded class that also features Cole Swider, Brandon Slater and Saddiq Bey. Quinerly has the makings of becoming the next in a long line of great Villanova point guards. Swider arrives with a reputation as one of the best pure shooters Villanova has ever recruited. Slater and Bey should be in the rotation throughout the season. The question with this group has nothing to do with offense. The key will be whether it can hold its own on the defensive end.

A grueling non-conference schedule

Villanova's non-conference slate is highlighted by a national championship game rematch with Michigan, a trip to Orlando for the Advocare Invitational (with Memphis, Oklahoma State and Florida State in the field), a visit to top-ranked Kansas, and a neutral court matchup with UConn. Then there are four games against Big 5 rivals, a group that would like nothing more than to end Villanova's 22-game winning streak against city competition.
 
The Wildcats have grown accustomed to having a bulls-eye on their backs. That will once again be the case from the outset this season.

Can Wright work his magic?

Whether or not he wants to admit it, Wright has emerged as the new face of college basketball. His two national championships in the last three years are only part of the equation. In a time when the entire sport is under siege for unethical conduct and tactics, Wright stands apart as an example of doing things the right way. He's built a championship program marked by unparalleled success on the court, a 100 percent graduation rate and the absence of scandal.
 
But this season he sizes up a challenge the likes of which he hasn't faced in a long time. He'll use November, December and probably even most of January to figure out who he can trust in February and March. But don't bet against Wright figuring out a way to get the most out of this group. Whether that's enough for a third national championship in four years will play out over the next five months.  

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No. 20 Villanova holds off Delaware

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No. 20 Villanova holds off Delaware

BOX SCORE

NEWARK, N.J. — Playing with a young team, Villanova coach Jay Wright has discovered that even winning can be a learning experience for the No. 20 Wildcats.

The days of Phil Booth and Eric Paschall stepping up in crunch time for the Wildcats ended when their college careers concluded last season.

The new kids have to step up and, fortunately, a lot of guys are carrying the load.

Jermaine Samuels scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and Villanova won its season-high fourth straight game by getting double-digit performances by five players to hold off Delaware 78-70 on Saturday in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center.

"It does boost their morale," Wright said of sharing the scoring load. "Guys like to score. That's one of the things we like to teach a young team -- don't evaluate yourselves on whether you score. So when five guys score they're all happy. Guys like to score. It's a normal human characteristic. They're feeling good right now. "

Justin Moore came off the bench to score 16, Saddiq Bey had 13, Cole Swider 12 and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl 10 as the Wildcats (8-2) beat the Blue Hens (9-2) for the 15th straight time.

Nate Darling scored 29 points for Delaware, which has lost two straight after setting a school record by starting the season with nine consecutive wins for coach Martin Ingelsby. Kevin Anderson added 14 points, while Justyn Mutts had eight points and 11 rebounds.

"We had epic battles when Mike Brey was there," Wright of the former Delaware coach who is now at Notre Dame. "I always remember those games. They're really intelligent defensively, to Martin's credit."

Darling, who was 10 of 19 from the field, hit a long 3-pointer with 13:15 left the game to get the Blue Hens to within 47-46 and give the Wildcats and Wright some concern.

Moore hit two free throws on the Wildcats' next possession and Collin Gillespie, who had an off game with seven points, hit a 3-pointer to push the advantage to 52-46.

Delaware never got closer than three the rest of the way as the Wildcats opened a 10-point lead in the final minutes.

“I do think we played well on a big stage," Ingelsby said. "We went for it. We were fearless. A testament to Villanova, they made winning plays and their free throws. I thought when we had it to three points we could put a little game pressure on them and get it tied or take the lead, and they made some plays. We could never get it to a one- or two-point game."

Villanova hit 9 of its first 12 shots in building a 22-10 lead less than seven minutes in. The Wildcats made only six baskets the rest of the half, taking a 37-32 lead. Most of their shots were from the outside and they never got to the free-throw line.

Darling and Anderson kept the Blue Hens close, scoring 11 and nine points, respectively.

In the opening game of the doubleheader at the Prudential Center, Mississippi State rallied late to beat Kansas State 67-61.

Big picture

Delaware: The Blue Hens have one of their best teams and this was a shot at upsetting the Wildcats.

Villanova: The Wildcats find ways to win. In this one, they pushed the ball inside in the second half to break it open.

Villanova connection

Ingelsby is the son of former Wildcats standout guard Tom Ingelsby. He played at the school from 1970-73, helping Villanova reach the NCAA title game in 1971. Former Wildcat Dylan Painter transferred to Delaware after last season and he is eligible to play his first game on Monday.

Up next

Delaware: Hosts Delaware State on Monday night.

Villanova: Hosts No. 2 Kansas on Saturday in a Big East-Big Ten matchup.

No. 23 Villanova holds off Saint Joseph's surge for Big 5 win

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No. 23 Villanova holds off Saint Joseph's surge for Big 5 win

BOX SCORE

Villanova nearly came undone completing an exhausting stretch of three games in six days against regional rivals.

Instead, the Wildcats found a final burst of energy, and that spoiled a frantic rally by their Main Line neighbors.

Saddiq Bey scored 22 points, Collin Gillespie had 20 and No. 23 Villanova held off a second-half comeback from Saint Joseph's to win 78-66 Saturday.

Villanova (7-2) led 41-25 at halftime, but Saint Joseph's Ryan Daly scored 22 of his 32 points after halftime to get the Hawks within 65-62 with 4:03 left. The Wildcats responded with a 13-4 run to end it.

"This will be good for us," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. "We've gone through a really tough stretch here, and we really haven't had a chance to practice. Now, we'll get a gap where we can work on some things. And it's always good when you can work on it after a win."

Justin Moore added 14 points and Jermaine Samuels had 12 for Villanova. The Wildcats have won 28 of 29 against Big 5 opponents since 2012.

The Hawks have lost seven straight overall and eight consecutive against Villanova since 2011. Daly was the only Saint Joseph's player with more than eight points.

"I'd much rather not had the 32 points if we ended up winning the game," Daly said. "That was the most important thing, and it didn't happen."

Saint Joseph's got within three on two occasions in the second half, including after Daly's two free throws with 4:08 left.

The Wildcats pulled away thanks to 8-for-8 shooting from the foul line in the last 2:11.

"We had a lot of tough games like this last year that helped us out," Bey said. "These games help you mature."

Big picture

Villanova: After a 2-0 week and winning three straight over Big 5 opponents, Villanova will likely remain in the AP Top 25 somewhere around their current ranking. The team has two games - Saturday against Delaware in Newark, a Dec. 21 home game against Kansas - before starting Big East play on Dec. 30 against Xavier.

Saint Joseph's: The Hawks - in their first season under coach Billy Lange - showed some signs of life despite poor shooting.

"There are no such things as moral victories," Lange said. "However, I've kept a notebook that asks if we played hard that I fill out when I get into my car or on the bus after a game. And clearly, we did that today against a national championship program."

Up next

Villanova: The Wildcats are off until next Saturday when they play Delaware in the Never Forget Tribute at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Saint Joseph's: The Hawks travel to Temple on Tuesday night.