Villanova Wildcats

No big threat for 'Nova in Big East opener

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No big threat for 'Nova in Big East opener

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CHICAGO -- In his 17 seasons at Villanova, Jay Wright can't recall coaching a more efficient offense. The way the Wildcats are clicking, it's not hard to see why he feels that way.

Mikal Bridges scored 20 points, Phil Booth added 17 points and six assists, and No. 1 Villanova made it look easy, beating DePaul 103-85 on Wednesday night in the Big East opener for both teams.

The Wildcats (13-0, 1-0) closed in on last year's program-record 14-0 start and gave Wright his 399th victory since becoming Villanova's coach in 2001.

Bridges and Booth each made four 3-pointers, and the Wildcats nailed 15 of 31 from long range.

Chicago-area product Jalen Brunson had 16 points and five assists. Eric Paschall scored 16, and Villanova hit the 100-point mark for the third time this season.

"I think it's really high basketball talent," Wright said. "We've got some really talented guys but they have really high basketball IQ. You might have three guys that talented but only one has basketball IQ. These (players) are all talented and a high basketball IQ. Always look to make the right play, not just scoring points."

He said past teams had more depth and were stingier on defense, something he would like to improve.

"We still have a journey," Wright said.

But these Wildcats also have something else going for them. They're comfortable at the top.

"I remember the first time we were the No. 1 team in the country and it was just a different feeling for the school, for the community," Booth said. "It was something we never really experienced before. Now we kind of focus on ourselves now. It's about us trying to get better and stay locked in."

Max Strus had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists for DePaul (7-6, 0-1). Marin Maric added 17 points and 10 rebounds, but the Blue Demons dropped their 13th straight against ranked opponents. They fell to 3-21 against No. 1 teams.

"It's phenomenal the way they make shots and a lot of it is they move the ball so well, and all five guys -- they don't have a guy that you don't have to guard at the 3-point line," coach Dave Leitao said. "And when you have that and fill a space and you play unselfishly, you're going to get open shots. They do it to a high level and as a result they make a lot of shots."

Pulling away
The Wildcats beat DePaul for the 15th straight time and improved to 25-8 in the all-time series. They shot 18 of 34 and nailed 8 of 18 3-point attempts on the way to a 48-33 halftime lead.

Any remaining suspense got wiped out by an 11-0 run early in the second half that made it 61-36. Booth hit a 3 and a layup during that spurt, and Jermaine Samuels finished it with two free throws. Bridges' 3 with just over 15 minutes left made it 69-39.

About the only thing Blue Demons fans had to cheer was when Bears great Otis Wilson was introduced in the closing minutes.

Painful moment
There was a scary moment late in the first half when DePaul's Peter Ryckbosch collided with Booth going for a defensive rebound and banged his head on the court. He stayed down for a couple minutes before walking to the locker room.

Big picture
Villanova: Though they got outrebounded 50-32, it's not hard to see why the Wildcats are No. 1 for the third week in a row.

DePaul: The Blue Demons couldn't get their shots to fall and had trouble hanging onto the ball. They were 29 of 71 overall -- 6 of 23 on 3's -- and tied a season high with 17 turnovers.

Quotable
"Deep down it means a lot to come back here. ... I enjoy being back here. I love to be here. A lot of great memories. It feels good to come home." -- Brunson on playing in Chicago.

Up next
Villanova: The Wildcats visit Butler on Saturday. The Bulldogs swept both games last season and handed Villanova its first loss after a 14-0 start.

DePaul: The schedule doesn't get easier, with the Blue Demons visiting No. 6 Xavier on Saturday.

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.