Villanova Wildcats

Impressive coaching from Jay Wright proves essential for Villanova

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Impressive coaching from Jay Wright proves essential for Villanova

Jay Wright admitted he was surprised following Villanova's 28-point drubbing of Seton Hall on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center. Wright wasn't surprised by the outcome of the game necessarily, but he was a little caught off guard by just how much progress his team has made over the last six weeks.

The Wildcats lost to No. 1 Kansas on Dec. 15 to drop to 8-4 on the season. Their four losses matched Villanova's loss total from each of the previous two seasons. In addition to the Kansas loss, they were blown out at home by Michigan, beaten by Furman in overtime, and bested by Penn, a loss that snapped Villanova's 25-game Big 5 winning streak.

The Wildcats' offense was clunky and more alarmingly, their trademark defensive intensity was nowhere to be found. It seemed like this group might be destined for the NIT.

Fast forward to the final days of January and Villanova looks like a completely different team. The Wildcats haven't lost since that mid-December Saturday in Kansas. They have won eight straight games, sit in first place in the Big East with a perfect 7-0 conference record and have climbed up to 14th in this week's AP Top 25 poll. 

It isn't a stretch to say this is Jay Wright's best coaching job in his 18 years as Villanova head coach. The Wildcats' improvement is truly staggering. The offense suddenly looks dynamic, the crisp ball movement and all-around unselfishness resembling the great Villanova teams of recent years. They are once again connected on defense, something senior Phil Booth points toward as the biggest reason for Villanova's winning streak.

Wright has won two national championships in the last three years, establishing Villanova as the country's premiere program over the last half decade. His teams won 165 games from 2014-2018, the most wins in a five-year period in college basketball history. Wright's resume will earn him induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame sooner rather than later.

Yet there are a handful of reasons why this season has been his most impressive work to date.

Leaning on the seniors

Booth and fellow fifth-year senior Eric Paschall have been nothing short of sensational. Wright has built the success of his program on the backs of upperclassmen, a rarity for a top-tier program in this era of college basketball. This season has been no different. Booth and Paschall are averaging 21.9 and 20.0 points per game, respectively, in Villanova's seven Big East games. They combined to score 26 of the Wildcats' 30 first half points Sunday against Seton Hall.

Wright calls Booth and Paschall two of the best players in the country. It's easy to see why. They do it all for the Wildcats, both in terms of on-court production and off-court leadership. Booth is performing at an All-American level and Paschall continues to boost his NBA Draft stock. This duo will become even more valuable in February and March. They have seen it all and have tons of winning experience. Wright's biggest challenge will be keeping Booth and Paschall fresh for the season's stretch run —  they both average just under 35 minutes per game.

Developing the complementary pieces

While Booth and Paschall were known commodities coming into the season, there weren't any other proven veterans on the Villanova roster. Grooming the Wildcats' complementary pieces is where Wright deserves the most credit. Sophomore Collin Gillespie has blossomed as a reliable floor general, averaging over 11 points per game and shooting just under 40 percent from three-point territory. Freshman Saddiq Bey is developing into an explosive, versatile all-around weapon.

Then there are sophomore forwards Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels, both of whom have stepped up into starring roles when needed. Factor in the steadiness of senior transfer Joe Cremo and the Wildcats have a solid blend of youth and experience. The rotation has been a juggling act for Wright. He has used seven different starting lineups in 20 games this season, often times adjusting to the tendencies and characteristics of the opponent on a game-by-game basis. Wright has deftly managed roles and egos within the Villanova culture he continues to develop. 

Managing the Quinerly situation

This has arguably been Wright's biggest challenge of the season. Freshman Jahvon Quinerly arrived at Villanova with lofty expectations — a McDonald's High School All-American billed as the next great Wildcats lead guard. But Quinerly was slow to adjust to how Villanova plays, particularly on the defensive end. He didn't get off the bench in four non-conference games, his frustration boiling over with a negative Instagram post following Villanova's loss to Penn.

But Wright understood that he was going to need Quinerly at some point and couldn't run the risk of losing him, either to a transfer or Quinerly mentally checking out on the season. Over the last six weeks, Quinerly has gradually become a more integral part of Villanova's rotation. He scored eight points in 15 minutes against Seton Hall on Sunday and figures to be more and more involved moving forward. Credit to both Quinerly and Wright for not letting this situation go off the rails back in December.

Wright has his team in terrific position to win a fifth Big East regular season championship in the last six years. The stumbles and frustration of November and December are a distant memory. February and March are regarded as the proving ground in college basketball and Villanova is poised to make yet another statement thanks in large part to their head coach.

No. 20 Villanova holds off Delaware

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

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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USA Today Images

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.