VILLANOVA, Pa. — For the first time since its 65-62 loss to No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, Villanova’s men’s basketball team took the court in front of a live audience.
The Wildcats and head coach Jay Wright held their annual Blue and White Scrimmage Saturday at Jake Nevin Field House in front of a crowd of about 1,000.
With the Pavilion undergoing a $60 million renovation project, Villanova will play a majority of its home games at the Wells Fargo Center this season.
During the course of the scrimmage, Wright held some intrasquad games and mixed in some drills, essentially an amplified version of a normal practice.
Wright, entering his 17th season on the Main Line, was mic'd up for the scrimmage and ultimately was pleased with the event.
“(Saturday's) scrimmage was good for us and it was a really valuable experience,” Wright said. “We got to play some game situations in front of a crowd, which was our very first time this season with this group. Getting the game speed with the referees was good.”
DiVincenzo poised for huge season
If the 2017 NCAA Tournament was any indication of Donte DiVincenzo’s basketball future at Villanova, Wildcats fans have a lot to look forward to.
The then-redshirt freshman averaged a team-high 18 points against Mount St. Mary’s and Wisconsin. DiVincenzo showed a lot of composure and promise on the big stage.
DiVincenzo said the end of the 2017 season was huge for his confidence and pushed him to be even better.
“Playing with three good seniors in Josh [Hart], Kris [Jenkins] and Darryl [Reynolds] last year was important,” DiVincenzo said. "They were pumping me up all year and when it came down to it, things started flowing for me. Losing early in the NCAA Tournament gave me so much more drive to work harder in the offseason especially after losing three great players.”
It was no different at the Blue and White scrimmage on Saturday. DiVincenzo showed great vision and great bounce off of the dribble in a strong showing.
While there were pauses in the scrimmage and drills filtered in between, DiVincenzo put together a solid performance. He hit four three-pointers and made three layups.
He also showed his strength in the paint on an and-one where he collided with redshirt sophomore forward Tim Delaney and was able to convert the floater.
DiVincenzo’s court vision stood out immediately. He was able to penetrate into the lane and kick the ball out to the perimeter for open looks from behind the arc on multiple occasions.
“A lot stands out to me about Donte,” junior guard Jalen Brunson said. “His work ethic has grown and he has become a tremendously better player. You guys saw his ability today and it is only going to get better. His playmaking ability stands out. He is not always looking to score and likes to get his teammates involved.”
After seeing success on the court that resulted in Big East All-Freshman team honors as well as the Big 5 Rookie of the Year, DiVincenzo didn’t get complacent in the offseason.
He focused on improving his shooting and ball handling. The guard from Wilmington, Delaware, spent a majority of his time in the weight room getting stronger.
“It is exciting to see Donte grow and continue to want to improve,” Wright said. “He finished strong last year and he did not relax in the offseason. He went to work and wanted to get better and you can see the improvement in everything he does — his ball handling, his shooting and his confidence level.”
Villanova showed its versatility Saturday, featuring a small-ball lineup and the ability to play big as well.
The Wildcats' guards are athletic and long, which can pose problems for opposing offenses. Brunson, freshman Collin Gillespie and redshirt junior Phil Booth are all 6-foot-3 and DiVincenzo is the tallest at 6-5.
“We are very versatile this year,” Brunson said. “We have guys that can drive and we have guys that can spot up. Everyone has a strength but we are working on all aspects of our game. All the hard work we have been putting in this summer will pay off when the season comes.”
The guards can spread the floor and are knock-down shooters as well. Gillespie, who connected on a couple of three-point attempts Saturday, looks to be a key contributor for Wright’s squad this season.
“I think our versatility is one of our strengths,” Wright said. “We have a number of guys that can play a number of different positions and are willing to do it. Mikal [Bridges], Eric [Paschall], Donte [DiVincenzo] and Jermaine [Samuels] are capable and willing to play one through four.”
• Freshman Omari Spellman, who missed last season because of an academic redshirt mandated by the NCAA, and Booth, who missed all but three games because of left knee inflammation, didn’t participate in the scrimmage. Wright said Spellman is dealing with a bone bruise and Booth is dealing with “annoying tendinitis” in his left knee.
• Wright was asked about the difference between entering this season and the 2016-2017 campaign when Villanova was fresh off a national championship.
“I think we have been given a lot more freedom in terms of expectations and attention, which is kind of nice,” Wright said. “It was alright the other way, too. We are a lot more relaxed around here but I wouldn’t trade it for coming off a championship. I also think this team is different. It is a lot less experienced than we have had and I think we have a chance to be good by the end but we may not look as good early.”
• Freshman Jermaine Samuels hit the game-winning three-pointer in the final intrasquad scrimmage.
• DiVincenzo showed his defensive capabilities on a strip of Brunson, resulting in a layup on the fast break. He also blocked Brunson at the rim.
• Villanova opens its season Nov. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center against Columbia.