Villanova Wildcats

Martelli: 'We're witnessing a blue blood' with No. 4 Villanova

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Martelli: 'We're witnessing a blue blood' with No. 4 Villanova

You’ll never hear Jay Wright tell you how good his own team is. That’s not really the Villanova coach’s style. 

Perhaps a better person to discuss the dominance of the fourth-ranked Wildcats is someone who knows them well — someone like Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli. And what better time to do it than right after Villanova’s ridiculously lopsided 94-53 win over the Hawks on Saturday at Hagan Arena (see observations)?

“There’s nothing they really miss,” Martelli said. “There’s nothing. Jay is an extraordinary spokesperson. I marvel at it. … For a long time, we’ve always thought it was Villanova and Jay Wright. Well, we’re now witnessing a blue blood. That’s the way the blue bloods do things. 

“I’ve actually had conversations with (Kentucky coach) John Calipari, and I’ll say, ‘Cal, with promoting, coaching and recruiting, you used to be first, second and third. Now I think you’re first and Jay Wright’s second.’ There’s nothing that he misses. There’s nothing. And he’s a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful man.”

There’s no question Villanova has been one of the best teams in the country over the past five seasons as the Wildcats have racked up 30-win campaigns and Big East championships. And there was that whole 2016 national title thing, too.

But putting them in the same category as blue bloods like Duke, Kansas and Calipari’s Kentucky is still something many college basketball fans around the country might not consider — but an appropriate way to understand the heights this program has reached.

It’s not just that the Wildcats have raced out to an 8-0 start despite losing program pillars Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Darryl Reynolds. It’s how they’re steamrolling teams, sucking the life out of them midway through a game after they keep it close. 

On Saturday at Hagan, St. Joe’s actually was right there, trailing 29-27 late in the first half as the home crowd rocked. At that point, was Wright expecting another classic, down-to-the-wire Big 5 battle?

“Hell yeah,” the Villanova coach said. “I did. We came ready to play, we really did. But they really out-scrapped us early. They got to loose balls. We got a couple fouls diving for loose balls because they got there first. … We said in the huddle, ‘You gotta weather this, man, because they’re coming at us. We gotta keep battling. It’s gonna have to be 40 minutes.’”

But things have changed now. Opposing teams have to be perfect to even stay with the Wildcats, who rarely make mistakes or take their foot off the gas. And the Hawks, who were missing standouts Lamarr Kimble (left foot) and Charlie Brown (left wrist), were not as Villanova blew the doors off their rival to win their 20th straight Big 5 game in memorable fashion.

“They’ve got two starters out and we played great,” Wright said. “That’s the bottom line.”

How great did the Wildcats play? You can start with the 19 three-pointers they made, which is a program record. Then you can look at their 24 assists on 33 made baskets. Or how six different players (Mikal Bridges, Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth, Donte DiVincenzo, Collin Gillespie, Omari Spellman) made multiple threes. Or how their defense completely smothered the Hawks.

Put it all together and it explains how a team goes on a 26-2 run, between two halves, on the road, against a formidable foe. Even still, Booth wasn’t sure how to explain how easily the Wildcats have been dispatching Big 5 opponents during their 20-game win streak.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just learned from the older guys when I got here how important it is, how hard it is to play in this environment, how you have to depend on each other. I don’t have a reason for it but I’m glad we do play well here.”

Wright credited Booth, who finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, for helping to “set the tone” and is proud how well the guard has returned to form after a redshirt season.

“When you come into a tough arena like this,” the ’Nova coach said, “you gotta have guys who have been through it.”

He also praised Spellman’s inside-out game. Despite not starting due to missing his target weight, the redshirt freshman had 16 points and 11 rebounds while shooting 4 for 5 from behind the arc.

“That really helps,” Wright said. “His ability to shoot threes, he could always do it. We knew it. We probably weren’t doing a good enough to job to put him in a position to get them.”

How do you stop Villanova when their big man is hitting threes, along with Brunson, Bridges, Booth, DiVincenzo and Gillispie? 

La Salle and Temple will both get a crack at it over the next 11 days as Villanova chases its fifth straight perfect Big 5 season. So will another national juggernaut in Gonzaga in three days at Madison Square Garden.

Martelli has coached and seen plenty of great teams in his tenure, and he knows it won’t be easy.

“If they want to know what the top looks like,” the St. Joe’s coach said of his players after Saturday’s loss, “that’s what the top looks like.” 

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.