Villanova Wildcats

No. 4 Villanova 'psyched' for first-ever game vs. No. 12 Gonzaga

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No. 4 Villanova 'psyched' for first-ever game vs. No. 12 Gonzaga

Since the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Gonzaga (161 wins) and Villanova (151) are the first- and third-winningest teams in Division I basketball.

On Tuesday, they will meet for the first time.

The No. 4 Wildcats and No. 12 Bulldogs face each other in the first game — Syracuse-Connecticut is the other — of the annual Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York.

The Zags (7-1) boast wins over Ohio State, Texas and then-No. 25 Creighton. Their only loss was to Florida, now ranked fifth, in a 111-105 double-overtime thriller.

This is the first real test for the Wildcats (8-0) — and it's the biggest one on Gonzaga's remaining schedule.

Potential Wildcats matchups with Arizona and Purdue never materialized in the Bahamas. Instead, when the Battle 4 Atlantis bracket was busted, Villanova beat Northern Iowa for the title.

The Wildcats' next toughest non-conference opponent is Temple next week.

This Gonzaga team hasn't had quite the expected drop-off from last year's team that lost to North Carolina in the national title game.

"I walk out of here knowing we can compete against anybody in the country now and we did not know that coming in," Few told The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review after his team beat Texas to claim third place in the PK80 tournament. "We hadn't really played anybody coming in.

"There were some question marks but if you go back to our scrimmage (vs. current No. 7 Texas A&M) and now this (tourney), I think we've proven we can definitely play with anybody in the country."

That theory will be tested on Thursday.

Villanova is coming off a 94-53 thrashing of Saint Joseph's.

Slowing the Wildcats shooters will be a challenge for the Bulldogs.

"They have a way of trying to win every possession," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said, according to Phillynews.com. "If our kids want to know what the top looks like, that's it.

"There's nothing they miss."

The Wildcats didn't miss a lot on Saturday, pouring in a school-record 19 3-pointers while outscoring the Hawks 57-16 from long range.

In its 91-74 win over Creighton on Friday, Gonzaga gave up 12 3-pointers.

"We knew they were a really good transition team," Zags forward Killian Tillie said after scoring 22 points in the win. "It's a different way of playing. We had to get back on defense really quickly. We had to adapt to them."

The Zags and Wildcats are both ranked in the top 26 in the nation in field goal percentage.

"I think it's going to be a great game," Villanova head coach Jay Wright said, according to the school's website. "At every position, they are operating at a high level. They have depth and are probably as efficient an offensive team as we have played. It's definitely going to be the best team we have played this year.

"It will be a great challenge for us. We're psyched."

The two coaches are close, and Few credits Wright with helping him navigate last year's Final Four.

"I spoke to Jay before we went to the Final Four," Few said Monday on the College Hoops Today Podcast. "I spoke to him and he told me what to expect and what the experience was going to be like. He was great. We had an unbelievable experience with the way we handled that weekend. I wouldn't do anything differently if we're fortunate enough to ever go back."

Bulldogs forward Corey Kispert is uncertain to be on the court Tuesday.

Kispert, a freshman who started the Zags' first seven games, missed the win over Creighton with an ankle injury.

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.