Villanova Wildcats

Breaking down Villanova's path, chances to make Final Four

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Breaking down Villanova's path, chances to make Final Four

Villanova's quest for its second national championship in the last three years begins Thursday. 'Nova, the No. 1 seed in the East Region for the third time in four years, takes on Radford in the first round.

Villanova's chances
Villanova is the favorite to win its region. In fact, Vegas bookmakers have installed the Wildcats as the overall favorite to win the national championship. There are several reasons for that vote of confidence. First and foremost, Villanova is really good. The Wildcats have two of the best players in the country in Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges. Factor in Donte DiVincenzo, Phil Booth, Omari Spellman and Eric Paschall, and Villanova has as much talent as anyone. This is the best offensive team Jay Wright has had at Villanova. This season the Wildcats averaged over 87 points and shot 50.4 percent from the field. They improved significantly defensively toward the end of the season, holding their last five opponents to an average of 69 points.

The Wildcats are also healthy for the first time since early December. Booth and Paschall both missed significant time in February, resulting in a 3-3 stretch for Villanova. But 'Nova won its last five games as Wright settled on an eight-man rotation featuring a heavy reliance on his starters and DiVincenzo. Barring foul trouble, freshmen Collin Gillespie and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree should see limited minutes in the tournament.

Player to watch
This distinction goes to Alabama freshman Collin Sexton, who Villanova could face in the second round Saturday. Sexton will be a lottery pick in the 2018 NBA draft. He's an explosive lead guard tailor-made for the NBA. Sexton averages 19 points and took it up a notch last weekend, averaging 26.3 points the SEC Tournament. The second round has been a stumbling block for Villanova in recent years. Sexton has the ability to put a serious scare into the Wildcats if Alabama can get past Virginia Tech.

Tournament coaches
NCAA Tournament-tested coaches go a long way toward success. There are several such coaches in 'Nova's region. Wright has won 21 NCAA Tournament games, leading the Wildcats to five Sweet 16 appearances, two Final Fours and a national championship in 2016. This will be West Virginia coach Bob Huggins' 24th NCAA Tournament. Like Wright, Huggins has coached in two Final Fours — one each with WVU and Cincinnati. Then there's Wichita State's Gregg Marshall, who will be coaching in his 14th NCAA Tournament. Marshall led Wichita State to the Final Four in 2013 and the Sweet 16 in 2015.  

Delayed matchup?
If seeding holds, Villanova would play No. 2 seed Purdue in the regional final. A lot of people expected this matchup to take place back in November at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, but Purdue was upset by Tennessee in the first round. Villanova and Purdue did meet in November 2016, with the Wildcats winning 79-76 on the Boilermakers' home court. If these two teams meet in the Elite Eight, Villanova will have to contend with Purdue's 1-2 punch of sharp-shooting guard Carsen Edwards and 7-2 big man Isaac Haas. 

Prediction
Villanova takes advantage of a favorable draw and advances to its second Final Four in the last three years. The Wildcats will handle Radford and contain Sexton and Alabama in the second round. They'll survive a tough test from WVU in the Sweet 16 before beating Purdue in the Elite Eight. From there it's on to the Final Four, where a whole new set of challenges will await.   

As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

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As key players head to NBA, where does Villanova go from here?

The decisions made by Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman to remain in the NBA draft should ultimately be a good thing for the Villanova basketball program. DiVincenzo and Spellman join college teammates Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson in the 2018 draft class and there's a chance all four of them are selected in the first round. 

Having four players drafted in the first round will do wonders for Villanova on the recruiting trail. The caliber of high school players that Jay Wright recruits want to play in the NBA. Wright could point to the four first-rounders the program produced this year in addition to former players like Kyle Lowry, Dante Cunningham, Josh Hart and Ryan Arcidiacono currently playing in the NBA.

While Wright's program will reap the benefits of producing NBA talent in the long run, there is no disputing the fact that DiVincenzo and Spellman deciding to leave is a significant blow to the program in the immediate future. DiVincenzo and Spellman would have been Villanova's two best players next season. Two guys capable of leading the Wildcats to a third national championship in four years. 

But their departures bring about a new reality for Wright — his four best players from last year's team are gone and he has only two proven players returning to lead his team into the 2018-19 season. 

The proven returners
Seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall combined to start 69 games last season and each played a critical role in winning the program's third national title. Next year will be Booth's fifth in the Villanova program and Paschall's fourth. These are proven performers and, more importantly, reliable leaders for what will largely be an inexperienced team. Booth will be one of the best guards in the Big East next season. Paschall is one of the most explosive athletes in the conference and his improved perimeter shooting last season was a key factor in Villanova winning the national championship.

Other key returners
This group will be the most important variable in Villanova's success next season. Collin Gillespie heads into his sophomore season poised for a big year. He made significant contributions off the bench as a freshman, overcoming an early season wrist injury that sidelined him for the better part of six weeks. A healthy and confident Gillespie will be a huge part of the Villanova backcourt. 

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree rounded out Villanova's seven-man rotation last season. Like Gillespie, he enters his sophomore season with a wealth of big-game experience. Cosby-Roundtree proved his worth last season as a high-motor big man specializing in defensive energy, rebounding and running the floor. He'll now be asked to contribute on a more consistent level offensively.

Jermaine Samuels will play a critical role. Another rising sophomore, Samuels was making strides as a freshman before a broken hand sidelined him for an extended stretch during the beginning of conference play. He was never able to re-establish himself in the rotation once he returned. Samuels has all the physical tools to be a high-level Big East wing player in the mold of Hart and DiVincenzo. Keep an eye on Samuels.

Then there's big man Dylan Painter, who redshirted last season. Painter showed promise towards the end of his freshman season in 2017. The hope is that a year spent working on his strength and athleticism will pay dividends. The redshirt formula has been a big part of Villanova's success. Painter could become the latest example of that. 

The new arrivals
Wright welcomes in his highest-rated recruiting class in a decade. The headliner is five-star point guard Jahvon Quinerly, who originally committed to Arizona but then de-committed in the midst of the FBI investigation into college basketball recruiting. Wright is confident that Quinerly will be cleared of any wrongdoing and will be eligible next season. Quinerly should make an instant impact, the next in a long line of terrific Villanova lead guards.

Cole Swider should also see significant playing time as a freshman. Swider is listed as a forward but is more than capable of doing damage from the perimeter thanks to his elite-level shooting ability. Swider is a natural scorer and should be a perfect fit for Villanova's three-point heavy offense. Brandon Slater is the third member of Villanova's freshman class, an athletic wing who will have ample opportunity to play his way into the rotation.

Villanova will also bring in at least one graduate transfer for next season. Joe Cremo has already committed to Villanova after starring at Albany the last two seasons. He averaged just under 18 points last year and shot nearly 46 percent from three-point range. The question is whether Cremo's production will carry over to the Big East level. Wright is hopeful that it will. Look for Cremo to be a key addition to the Villanova backcourt. 

Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

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Donte DiVincenzo latest Villanova player to declare for NBA draft

Another Villanova star is moving on ... maybe.

Donte DiVincenzo has declared for the NBA draft but will not hire an agent, meaning he can test the draft waters but will maintain his college eligibility should he chose to return to school. 

The redshirt sophomore was voted the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player after scoring a career-high 31 points in Villanova' national title win over Michigan. 

“Donte has consistently improved in his time at Villanova through dedication and a commitment to our core values,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “His play this season has created a unique opportunity for him to receive feedback from NBA teams in the draft process. We support Donte fully and our staff will work together with him and his family to help him assess the next step in his basketball career.”

DiVincenzo averaged 13.4 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 48.1 percent from the field. His numbers jumped to 15 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.7 assists 54.7 percent shooting during the NCAA Tournament.

He must decide by May 30 if he will enter the draft or return to school.

DiVincenzo is the latest Wildcat to declare for the draft, as the mass exodus of stars continues for Villanova.

Mikael Bridges and Jalen Brunson have declared and hired agents, marking the end of their collegiate careers, while redshirt freshman Omari Spellman will also test the waters.

On the bright side, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall announced they will both return for next season.