Villanova Wildcats

Villanova conquers Butler demons

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Villanova conquers Butler demons

BOX SCORE

It took almost two calendar years, but Donte DiVincenzo, Jalen Brunson and No. 1 Villanova finally stepped out of the phone booth and conquered their Big East kryptonite.

DiVencenzo starred with a career-high 30 points and Brunson was his typical steady self with 27 points of his own as the Wildcats used a potent second-half run to vanquish its Butler demons with an 86-75 victory at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday afternoon. Butler had beaten Villanova three straight times, including an upset in Indianapolis in December.
 
It was a statement of a rebound win after Wednesday’s stunning loss to St. John’s for Jay Wright’s Wildcats, who improved to 23-2 on the season. Butler fell to 17-9
 
The hot-shooting Bulldogs jumped out by as many as 13 in the first half and Villanova was grasping for answers. The answers were found in the form of DiVincenzo and a crushing second-half run that bullied the Bulldogs into submission. Villanova took its first lead at 42-40 early in the final half and never relinquished it while turning up the heat in front of a sellout crowd of 20,603 fans clad in white.
 
Kelan Martin finished with a team-high 30 points in an unsuccessful Butler effort.
 
The Wildcats still haven’t dropped back-to-back games since March 2013.
 
Villanova finished its four-game homestand with a 3-1 record, but could fall from the No. 1 perch this week as No. 2 Virginia continues to steamroll the competition.
 
• The turning point of this game was simple.  Butler led 38-30 with 1:48 left in the first half and the ‘Nova Nation was quietly sitting on its hands. But then the ‘Cats flipped the switch and went on one of their typical devastating runs that just crush an opponent’s spirit. This one was a 21-4 run over the next 6:55 that punished Butler and put the Bulldogs in a 51-42 hole they could never recover from. DiVincenzo, the 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore, was the firestarter during the run as he recorded 11 of the 21 points and sent a jolt of energy throughout the building. Without the explosion from DiVincenzo, who dropped 20 total in the second half, who knows where this game goes?
 
• Villanova fans surely remember the last meeting with Butler in December when the Bulldogs shot a scorching 15 for 22 from behind the arc en route to the 101-93 upset in Indy. Wright did, too. So to counter, he started freshman guard Collin Gillespie for more quickness and defense on the perimeter. Fellow freshman Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, a forward, started Wednesday’s upset loss at the hands of St. John’s. While the justification in Wright’s decision was there, the execution itself lacked as the Bulldogs torched the nets in the first half, shooting 56 percent from the field and 54 percent from downtown. Bad memories came back to life as Butler led by as many as 13. Good thing for Villanova that the rules of basketball state the teams must play two halves.
 
• Kelan Martin was an unstoppable monster for Butler in this game… in the first half. He led a potent Bulldogs attack. Of course, his 17 points on 6 of 8 shooting, including 5 of 6 from downtown, made an impact. But it was the way he had almost every answer that was so stifling to the Wildcats. After a DiVincenzo trey got the ‘Cats back within four with 5:03 left in the first half, Martin answered with a trey of his own just seconds later. It seemed like it was just going to be one those days for Villanova. But in the second half, there was barely a peep out of Martin. In the ultimate 20 minutes, he was just 4 of 12 for 13 points. After Martin put up 24 in the first meeting, slowing him down was a major key for Villanova in this game. It took until the second half, but mission accomplished.
 
• The current injury situation is really taking its toll on Villanova. Redshirt junior Phil Booth, a reliable veteran presence at both ends of the floor, is a huge component of the Wildcats’ glue. A game like this is where Wright’s team could have really used Booth, who’s out up to the next month with a broken hand, to calm things down while doing the dirty work he’s known for. Of course, the Wildcats are used to playing without Booth as he missed most of last season with a knee injury. And their depth suffered. Junior forward Eric Paschall and his unique skillset are out indefinitely after a concussion suffered on a nasty fall last Sunday vs. Seton Hall. His 12.8 points and 4.2 boards a game are holes in the lineup, but he’s also shooting 64 percent from the field and 54 percent from downtown on the season. Combine that with his defensive presence inside, and it’s almost like Villanova fans don’t realize all Paschall brings until he’s out of the lineup. Again, much like what Booth brings, all Paschall does on the floor would have been a major boost to the ‘Cats on Saturday.

• Where was Mikal Bridges? Well, he was physically in the Wells Fargo Center, in uniform, but his game was on the side of a milk carton in the press room. With Booth and Paschall out, more responsibility is on Bridges to be the force he can be at both ends of the floor like the 6-foot-7, lottery pick, freak of nature he can be. And he just wasn’t that force in this game. Not even close. It was hard to even notice him when he was on the floor. In the first half, he shot a miserable 1 for 7 from the floor. His one highlight was a steal and flush in the latter stages of the second half that gave ‘Nova a 73-64 lead. He finished with just 10 points on 4 of 13 from the field. Shorthanded Villanova is going to need plenty more from in the coming weeks.
 
• Those Villanova throwback unis are sweet.
 
• The coming week is far from easy for Villanova as the Big East grind takes the Wildcats to Providence on Wednesday night and then to Cincy for a mammoth showdown with No. 5 Xavier next Saturday afternoon.

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.