Villanova Wildcats

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. 

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.

Saddiq Bey's career-high 27 points help No. 23 Villanova hold off Penn

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Saddiq Bey's career-high 27 points help No. 23 Villanova hold off Penn

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Saddiq Bey kept another surprise defeat at bay for Villanova, and again made the Wildcats the top contender for another city championship.

Bey scored a career-high 27 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 13 points and 12 rebounds to lead No. 23 Villanova to an 80-69 victory over Penn on Wednesday night.

The Wildcats (6-2) finally pulled away from the Quakers over the final two minutes to avoid a second straight loss to their Philadelphia basketball rivals. Justin Moore converted a three-point play to give Villanova the breathing room it needed to hold off pesky Penn (5-4).

"The reason those games are like that and always have been is because we all know each other," coach Jay Wright said.

Jordan Dingle and AJ Brodeur each scored 18 points for Penn. Moore finished with 17 for the Wildcats.

The Quakers pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Philly hoops history last season when they knocked off the national champion Wildcats 78-75 at the Palestra. The Wildcats had won a city-record 25 straight games against Big 5 rivals Temple, Saint Joseph's, La Salle and the Quakers. Penn would win the Big 5 title but not the Ivy League crown that could have sent it back to the NCAA Tournament.

The Quakers came out determined to prove they were no one-upset wonder. They forced the game into the paint and kept the Wildcats from relying on the 3 to put them away. Brodeur scored 12 points and the Quakers had the game tied at 30-all late in the first half.

Jermaine Samuels swayed the game toward Villanova on a monster block on Devon Goodman's fast-break attempt and Bey capitalized with a thunderous jam on the other end that brought the fans to their feet. The dunk gave Bey 23 points, one better than his career high set earlier this season against Army.

Much like last season, the Quakers weren't going away. Goodman buried a 3 and quickly dunked off his own steal to bring the 11½-point underdog Quakers within four midway through the second half. Dingle hit a 3 to make it a one-point game and suddenly the thought of another shocker was in full force on Villanova's campus. Penn students stormed the court, tossed streamers, hopped around at midcourt, and mobbed the players after last season's win at the Palestra.

Robinson-Earl is a freshman and had nothing to do with the defeat, and knew even less about the Big 5. But one big game against the Quakers -- hardly confused with the powerhouse programs the Wildcats beat in March -- changed his perspective on the rivalry's meaning.

"The coaches have told me, the players have told me, it's just so important," he said. "I don't know a lot of the history about it but I can see from the energy Coach gives about how important it is."

The fans inside the Pavilion were all but silenced when the Quakers made it 48-47. The Quakers kept driving inside to keep the deficit within single digits and Dingle got a rise out of the Penn bench on a two-handed dunk. Try as they might, the Quakers couldn't stop Bey and couldn't go on enough of a run to ever take the lead. Goodman hit Penn's seventh 3 to make it 68-64 with Bey on the bench with four fouls.

The Wildcats made only 4 of 10 3-pointers; Bey was 10 of 18 overall with six rebounds.

"I don't know if we were ready for the physicality he brought to the game," Brodeur said. "He scored a lot of points at the basket."

The Wildcats held Penn to only five points over the final 4 minutes to hang on for the tougher-than-necessary victory.

"Three minutes to go, I thought the plan was working," Penn coach Steve Donohue said. "We just kind of ran out of gas on the offensive end.

Big picture 

Penn: The Quakers have never won on Villanova's campus, falling to 0-12.

Villanova: The Wildcats have 26 Big 5 titles, second to Temple's 28. Villanova won five straight before the Quakers ended the run last season but the Wildcats seem poised to go hard after another city title this season. They are 2-0 this season.

Up next 

Penn: The Quakers have a long layoff until they host Widener on Dec. 21.

Villanova: The Wildcats play Sunday at Saint Joseph's in traditionally the biggest city hoops game of the season.