Villanova Wildcats

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

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CSN

No. 7 Villanova at Albany: Taking on strong defense in conference opener

No. 7 Villanova (2-1, 0-0 CAA) at Albany (2-1, 0-0 CAA)
Tom & Mary Casey Stadium, Albany, New York
Saturday, 7 p.m.

It’s time for conference play as Villanova kicks off its CAA slate this weekend. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats asserted their FCS dominance last week with a 59-0 thrashing of overmatched Lafayette. That came two weeks after a win over another Patriot League team in Lehigh, which preceded an impressive showing in a loss to FBS Temple. All of which is to say that the Wildcats head into conference play as good as advertised as one of the juggernauts in the CAA, led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk (who completed 13 of 15 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns last week), a balanced rushing attack (also last week: seven different ball carriers combined to run for 262 yards and three TDs), and a defense that slowed down Temple and had two TDs vs. Lafayette (and was among the nation’s best last season).

Scouting Albany
After losing to Old Dominion in their opener, the Great Danes have won two straight, shutting out Morgan State, 26-0, and doubling up Monmouth, 28-14. In last week’s win over Monmouth, redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Brunson threw for one touchdown and ran for another while the Albany defense, led by redshirt senior linebacker Nate Hatalsky (15 tackles), held one of FCS’s top rushing teams to just 63 yards on the ground. Picked to finish sixth in the CAA in the preseason, Albany also features an all-league running back in junior Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who scored a TD in his season debut last week after sitting out the first two games with an injury.

History
Villanova leads the all-time series, 3-0, having defeated the Great Danes in each of the past three seasons.

Storyline to watch
Albany’s defense is off to a solid start, ranking second in the CAA in both total defense and passing defense. Bednarczyk and company had a field day with Lehigh and Lafayette but it will be interesting to see how they manage the game, and balance the run vs. pass, against a more proficient defensive unit.

What’s at stake?
Winning on the road is never easy but if it wants to win the CAA, Villanova is going to have to stay unblemished until facing league powerhouse and defending national champion James Madison in mid-October.

Prediction
The Wildcats will immediately show why they’re one of the CAA’s best teams.

Villanova 28, Albany 17

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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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.