Villanova Wildcats

Villanova survives to avoid rare consecutive losses

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Villanova survives to avoid rare consecutive losses


NEWARK, N.J. — For nearly the last five years, there's been something that Jay Wright's Villanova Wildcats could be counted on following a loss — to keep it at just one loss.

So on the heels of a stunning upset loss to Creighton on Saturday, the Wildcats responded in the only way they know how. 

Despite blowing an 11-point second-half lead, struggling offensively all night and needing an extra five minutes of playing time, No. 4 Villanova got by Seton Hall, 69-68, on Wednesday at the Prudential Center. 

Plagued by shooting woes all night, Villanova (26-4, 13-4) grabbed a five-point lead under two minutes into the overtime period and held off the Pirates the rest of the way. Mikal Bridges, who scored a team-high 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and Jalen Brunson, who added 12 points, came up large for the Wildcats in overtime with 11 of their 17 points.

Khadeen Carrington led the Pirates (20-10, 9-8) with 23 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. 

Wright's Wildcats still haven't dropped consecutive games since March 3, 2013, when they lost to Pitt on the road following a loss to Seton Hall.

• Ugly would be a generous way to describe both teams' first-half performances on the offensive end. Seton Hall shot at a 20.7 percent clip from the field (6 for 29, while connecting on just 1 of 12 attempts from deep). But Villanova could only build a lead as large as six in the first half because of its own offensive woes. The Wildcats, who entered the break leading 24-18, shot 32.3 percent from the field and hit on just three of their 15 threes.

• The first-half struggles for both sides carried into the early stages of the second half but, with the help of a pair of bad fouls by Seton Hall on three-point shot attempts, Villanova stretched its lead out to a game-high 11 at 36-25 with 12-plus minutes left and appeared on its way to an easy win ...

• ... but Myles Powell had other plans. The Pirates' guard single-handedly ignited their offense with a personal 8-0 run, which was the start of a 14-2 Seton Hall burst. That run gave the Pirates their first lead, 39-38, since the 12:07 mark of the first half. Villanova responded with a quick 6-0 run, but Seton Hall refused to go away and would regain the lead with under three to play.

• Facing a 49-48 deficit with 46 seconds remaining, the Wildcats got clutch buckets from Brunson and Bridges to go ahead, 52-49. A pair of free throws from Carrington cut it to one and, following a missed free throw from Brunson, a Carrington split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 52-52. Donte DiVincenzo's triple at the buzzer was off the mark, as the teams headed to overtime.  

• Even as Villanova held a seven-point lead with 25 seconds left in OT, Seton Hall kept fighting back. Following an Eron Gordon triple, Villanova threw the ball away on the inbound pass and Powell scored off the turnover. After Omari Spellman split a pair of free throws, Carrington answered with a dunk to cut it 67-66.

With the Pirates forced to foul, Brunson knocked down both free throws with six seconds remaining. On the ensuing possession, Villanova fouled Carrington with one second left before he could get a three-point attempt off. Carrington made the first but banked home the second, preventing the Pirates from having a shot at tipping in the tying bucket.

• Bridges was the only player that had anything going on either side in the first half, scoring nine of the first 11 points for the Wildcats, including their first seven. Bridges faded some after the hot start, but he came on late in regulation and OT.

• Earlier Wednesday, Brunson was named one of the 10 semifinalists for the Naismith College Player of the Year award. While he had a rare off night overall (just 14 points on 6 of 15 shooting and zero assists), he hit big buckets late in the second half and in OT, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final eight-plus minutes of the game. 

• Seton Hall was without freshman guard Jordan Walker (thumb) and leading scorer Desi Rodriguez, who missed his second straight game with a left ankle injury. Carrington had a heroic performance in 44 minutes of action, but Rodriguez was certainly missed by the Pirates. Their next three top offensive threats — Carrington, Powell and Angel Delgado — combined for 43 points on 14 for 45 shooting from the field.

• The Wildcats will close out their regular season on Saturday in a matchup with Georgetown at the Wells Fargo Center. Then, it will be on to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. With No. 3 Xavier beating Providence on Wednesday, the Wildcats remain a game out from the top seed in the conference tournament. Xavier closes its regular season at DePaul 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.