Villanova Wildcats

No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

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No. 5 Villanova hangs on to beat Tennessee in Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal

PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Fifth-ranked Villanova walked into the locker room at halftime facing a double-digit deficit against Tennessee and several players battling foul trouble.

The way coach Jay Wright figured, there was at least one positive note: His Wildcats should be fresh and ready to roll out of the break.

Jalen Brunson scored 25 points to help Villanova rally from 15 down and beat Tennessee 85-76 in Thursday's semifinals at the Battle 4 Atlantis, earning a trip to the championship game.

The Wildcats (5-0) trailed 44-29 with 1:39 left before roaring out of the break with a dominating run. Villanova scored the first 11 points as part of that 23-2 burst, with the Wildcats playing far more aggressively and getting out in transition.

"I would love to tell you I came up with some great strategy," Wright said. "It was just we made it through the first half with everybody in foul trouble. ... We just said, `All right, we've got everybody back, let's go play, let's do what we were supposed to do.'"

Villanova shot 52 percent after halftime, fueled by Tennessee's 12 second-half turnovers that helped the Wildcats get loose on the break. The Wildcats also had an aggressive edge that got them to the line 24 times after halftime.

"That's how we should play, and throughout the whole game," said Mikal Bridges, who had 21 points. "You just saw parts of that today, in the beginning of the first half and the beginning of the second half. We practice every day trying to play like that for 40 minutes."

Villanova built a 15-point lead with 4:40 left before having to hold off a late rally by the Volunteers (3-1).

Grant Williams scored 20 points for Tennessee, which clawed to within 79-76 on Admiral Schofield's 3-pointer with 51.6 seconds left. But that was as close as the Volunteers got, with Villanova hitting four free throws and getting a breakaway dunk from Donte DiVincenzo with 13.2 seconds left to seal it.

"When they get points easily off turnovers, and out in transition, and also they get more possessions on offense, it's hard when you don't have those shot opportunities," Williams said. "I think their pressure really took us out of our offense.

"In the first half we did a good job of getting to what we wanted. In the second half, they just ran us out of what we wanted."

Big picture
Tennessee: The Volunteers were coming off an overtime win against No. 18 Purdue in the first round and they were poised to add an even bigger upset. But that flat second-half start wiped out a strong half's worth of work and squandered the momentum that came through their board work and converting turnovers.

"We went in and they were feeling pretty good obviously and they were saying all the right things," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "But we didn't come out and do the right things."

Villanova: That's two straight days the Wildcats put together a second-half spurt to take control in the Bahamas. They did it in Round 1 against Western Kentucky to finally break the game open, but this one -- full of active hands, deflected passes and guys diving on the floor -- brought them back in a game that was once getting away from them.

Foul issues
Villanova had five players with at least two fouls by halftime, including starting forward Omari Spellman (three), Bridges (two) and Brunson (two). The game had a total of 52 fouls between the teams.

Brunson's scoring
Brunson scored 18 of his 25 points after halftime, finishing the game 8 of 16 from the field and 9 for 9 from the line to go with six assists.

"(Teammates) give me confidence," Brunson said. "Coach gives me confidence. I put the work in, I should have confidence in myself."

Second-half numbers
Villanova scored 14 of its 21 points off turnovers and 10 of its 12 fast-break points after halftime. The Wildcats also made 20 of 24 free throws after halftime and 33 of 37 for the game.

Up next
Tennessee: The Volunteers will play the North Carolina State-Northern Iowa loser in Friday's third-place game.

Villanova: The Wildcats will play the N.C. State-Northern Iowa winner in Friday's championship game.

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.