Villanova Wildcats

No. 1 Villanova is no longer perfect

usa-mikal-bridges-villanova-butler.jpg
USA Today Images

No. 1 Villanova is no longer perfect

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS — No. 1 Villanova learned a tough lesson Saturday.

The defense needs to improve dramatically if the Wildcats want to be the nation's best team.

Kelan Martin scored 24 points, Paul Jorgensen added a career-high 23 and Butler made 15 3-pointers in a 101-93 upset over one of college basketball's last unbeaten teams.

"This is the best offense we've played so far and it showed," coach Jay Wright said. "We've really been outscoring teams to this point and we weren't going to outscore this team tonight."

Certainly not against a foe that seems to have a master plan for taking down the Wildcats (13-1, 1-1 Big East).

Almost exactly a year after ending another perfect start to knock Villanova out of the top spot, Butler did it again.

This time, Villanova came into the game allowing 65.8 points and 6.6 3s per game with 10 wins by 14 or more points.

Butler's shooters blew right past those numbers. Martin and Jorgensen each made four 3s, Kamar Baldwin, who flirted with a triple-double, had three and Henry Baddley and Sean McDermott each made two.

When it ended, Butler shot 60 percent from the field including 15 of 22 from beyond the arc, both season-lows for Villanova. And the Bulldogs posted the highest scoring total against Villanova since Creighton's 101-80 victory on Feb. 16, 2014.

Afterward, students ignored the school's pleas to delay storming the court until players had left the floor and the Bulldogs talked about the need to do even bigger and better things.

"Villanova is a team that I grew up watching, watching in the Garden," said Jorgensen, a native of New City, New York. "So to take them down at Hinkle is really amazing. But like Coach said, we don't want this to be the highlight of our season."

The Wildcats really didn't play that poorly.

Jalen Brunson matched his career high with 31 points and Mikal Bridges had 21 to help Villanova storm back from a 23-point deficit to get within six with 1:33 left. But Brunson missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with a chance to make it a four-point game 12 seconds later and the Wildcats couldn't get any closer.

Butler made seven 3s in the final minutes of the first half to take a 53-45 lead then made all five of their 3s in the second half. When the Wildcats started defending the arc, Butler took advantage with a bevy of layups and dunks, extending the lead to 81-58 with 10:23 left.

"They adjusted to us on the line and started taking away the 3s, so we had to drive to the basket and attack in different ways," Butler coach LaVall Jordan said. "We made the adjustment and stayed on the attack."

Villanova countered with full-court pressure and when Butler started throwing the ball away, the Wildcats ran off 14 straight points to make it 84-76 with 5:04 to go.

They just couldn't quite finish it off.

"We've got a lot of room to improve," Bridges said. "We're definitely going to get better."

Big picture
Villanova: The Wildcats have lost five times over the last two seasons -- three times to Butler. They'll meet again Feb. 10. But explaining those losses -- all with Villanova ranked No. 1 or No. 2 and all by eight points -- sounds incomprehensible.

Butler: Jordan got his first big win since returning to his alma mater. The win certainly helps the Bulldogs' tourney resume and the entertaining performance on national television could help with recruiting, too. But Jordan wants to see his team start playing this way consistently.

Key numbers
Villanova: Donte DiVincenzo had 16 points and Eric Paschall had 15. ... Omari Spellman had nine rebounds while Brunson added five assists. ... The Wildcats only had four turnovers and outscored Butler 52-30 in the paint.

Butler: Baldwin had 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. ... The Bulldogs had nine of their 13 turnovers in the last 10 minutes. ... They also had a 37-26 rebounding edge. ... Butler is 9-0 at home this season.

Project 44
Jordan wore a special T-shirt over his dress shirt and tie Saturday to remind people about the need to donate bone marrow through Project 44, which honors the late Andrew Smith.

Smith, who played on Butler's two Final Four teams, died in January 2016 after battling cancer. He was 25. His widow, Samantha, and one of Smith's former teammates, Chase Stigall, whose donation helped save a young boy, spoke to the crowd during the first media timeout.

"That was a lot of fun," Jordan said. "Two wins for the Butler family."

Up next
Villanova: The Wildcats get a short break before hosting Marquette next Saturday, ending a 37-day stretch with only one home game.

Butler: Renews its rivalry at No. 6 Xavier on Tuesday.

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

ap-jay-wright.jpg
AP Images

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

usa-donte-divincenzo.jpg
USA Today Images

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.