Banners are up. Championship rings are shining. Another Hoops Mania has rocked The Pavilion. Now, it is time for Villanova Basketball.
The Wildcats will officially play their first game as “defending National Champions” tonight against Lafeyette. Head coach Jay Wright is in a unique position. He must replace the heart and soul of last year’s team–Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu. However, he also has the luxury of sending several other key members of that group back out on the floor. Players like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Phil Booth, and Jalen Brunson are among many returnees that are creating a buzzing confidence around the 2016-17 Wildcats.
As the season progresses, new storylines will undoubtedly arise. Each week, The Weekly Wildcat Walkthrough will analyze the current state of the team and provide insight into different areas of interest. To get things started, here is a preseason edition to add to the hype of another exciting season on the Main Line.
The Grand Finale
Hart, Jenkins, and fellow classmate Darryl Reynolds have been at the core of the most successful run in Villanova basketball history. In its first three seasons, this trio has helped the Wildcats compile a 97-13 record, win three consecutive Big East regular season championships, and lock down a No. 2 seed or higher in each of the last three NCAA tournaments. That is only a small part of an incredible résumé that this group has put together since arriving at Villanova in the fall of 2013.
After reaching the pinnacle of college basketball last April, this senior class is more than ready to end finish its legacy with one more strong campaign. Hart and Jenkins are both on the preseason watch list for the Naismith Trophy (awarded to the top player in college basketball.) Additionally, Hart was named to the Associated Press’ preseason All-American team, and Reynolds will finally have his chance to shine as the Wildcats’ primary post player.
It is no secret that talented players rarely stick around to finish their full four years with a team. But these three have differentiated themselves from that trend. And now they will play their senior seasons as some of the most recognizable faces in all of college basketball.
The (New) “Big Man on Campus”
Star forward Daniel Ochefu is now a member of the NBA’s Washington Wizards, leaving his former backup, Reynolds, as the Wildcats primary big man. With 5-star freshman Omari Spellman forced to sit out this year due to an NCAA rules violation, Reynolds will now be asked to contribute even more than many had originally thought.
But Reynolds is ready. He is a capable defender and rim protector on defense, and his strength and athleticism should allow him to contribute on the offensive end of the floor. He played some meaningful minutes last season. In total, Reynolds saw 17.1 minutes per game and averaged 13.2 minutes per game in the NCAA Tournament. His most notable performance of 2015-16 came while Ochefu was sidelined with an injury last February, when Reynolds recorded a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds in a road game against then-No. 11 Providence.
Reynolds has been an overshadowed member of this senior class. But for the Wildcats to continue their dominance this year, that shadow will have to be lifted and Reynolds will need to shine in his new role.
A New Face
Those who follow the team closely may have heard the rumors of Eric Paschall‘s dominance during the Wildcats’ practices in the Davis Center. With Spellman watching from the sideline, the 6-foot-7 redshirt sophomore will be the most notable new face on the floor for Villanova this season.
After transferring from Fordham, Paschall sat out the Wildcats’ National Championship season as per NCAA regulations. Now he is set to make his highly anticipated debut as a pivotal part of Villanova’s frontcourt rotation. He will bring versatility to the Wildcats’ offensive attack with the ability to attack the rim as well as score from the perimeter.
Paschall was named the Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year after leading the Rams with 15.9 points per game and adding 5.5 rebounds per contest. The level of play in the Big East will may create an obstacle for Paschall as he adjusts to playing in a more challenging conference. He was the go-to guy at Fordham, but now he must adjust to playing Villanova’s balanced, team-oriented style of basketball.
After being a part of just ten wins during his lone season with the Rams, Paschall now joins a squad that has nearly 100 victories over the last three years. If he plays his part and lets the game come to him, he will be an extremely valuable piece to the 2016-17 Wildcats.
While most of the talk of this year’s team will probably be about Hart and Jenkins, the Wildcats’ guards may be one of the most interesting position groups to watch as a whole. Sure, you can call Hart a guard/forward, but the backcourt trio under this microscope is that of Brunson, Booth, and Donte DiVincenzo.
With Arcidiacono gone, Brunson will be the team’s undisputed point guard. He started 39 of 40 games as a freshman and ran the point for a large portion of every contest. Still, though, he seemed to take a backseat to Arcidiacono in terms of the Wildcats’ overall gameplan. Now, he is without question the team’s floor general and his effectiveness during his first year is a good sign for ‘Nova.
Booth is perhaps the most dynamic scorer and defender the Wildcats have had in the backcourt in their recent run of dominance. He will be an excellent compliment to Brunson when the two are on the court together.
And don’t forget about DiVincenzo. An injury limited his participation last year, but he is healthy and ready to be a part of the Wildcats’ guard rotation. If he can be productive during his time on the floor, Villanova will enjoy a tremendous amount of backcourt depth that will allow them to use a lot of different lineups.