With depth coming, 2018 looks bright for Villanova basketball

With depth coming, 2018 looks bright for Villanova basketball

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- If you're still bummed about the way Villanova's season ended, there's some hope for you.

Just think about next year.

"I’m trying to do it now so I don’t have to watch these games," Jay Wright said.

"I really am. I sit there with my pad and look at our roster and write out plays so I can’t watch the games that are going on right now.

"It’s kind of cathartic to think about next year."

Because Villanova, the winningest team in NCAA Division I over the last four years with 129 wins, should be very good again in 2018.

Yes, the Wildcats will lose Big East Player of the Year Josh Hart, 2016 championship game hero Kris Jenkins and post presence Darryl Reynolds.

But if Jalen Brunson returns to Villanova for his junior year, the Wildcats will return four of their top six scorers -- Brunson, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschall. Brunson could very well be the Big East preseason Player of the Year.

They'll also potentially add as many as six new key pieces -- highly regarded post presence Omari Spellman, ruled ineligible by the NCAA before this season; sharp-shooting guard Phil Booth, who scored 20 points in the title game win over North Carolina but missed all but three games this year with knee pain; big man Tim Delaney, who missed the last two years with hip injuries and remains a question mark; plus incoming freshmen Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels.

Will the 2017-18 Wildcats have the potential to make a deep run? Maybe get to a Final Four?

"Absolutely," Jenkins said. "They're going to be real good. I’m excited to see how things unfold for them.

"You’ve got guys coming in, new guys stepping into different roles. They’re going to be fun to watch and they’re definitely going to do some special things and we’ll be cheering for them, for sure."

How does it all break down?

Assuming Brunson comes back, the likely starting five will be Brunson in the backcourt with Booth, with DiVincenzo, Bridges and Spellman in the frontcourt, and DiVincenzo obviously able to play the 1 or the 2 as well.

That leaves Paschall, who improved steadily as the year went on, coming off the bench in what will be the Wildcats' deepest frontcourt in years. And don't forget 6-10 Dylan Painter, who made great strides as the year went on.

Then factor in possible immediate contributions from the incoming freshmen -- Samuels, a 6-6 wing who should get immediate playing time, along with 6-8 Cosby-Roundtree and 6-2 combo guard Gillespie.

After going just seven deep this past year, Wright will have tremendous depth at his disposal next season, along with three guys who averaged at least 20 minutes per game on a national championship team.

There will likely be a redshirt or two, but even so, Wright should be able to go nine deep this coming season.

No wonder then that college basketball metrics site KenPom.com has already ranked Villanova as the No. 1 team in NCAA Division I … in 2018.

Obviously, the Wildcats will miss Hart tremendously, but DiVincenzo is clearly the heir apparent. Whether he'll be as good as Hart remains to be seen, but Wright didn't hesitate to compare him with Hart halfway through his freshman season, and DiVincenzo's late-season performance really did hint of future greatness.

Reynolds was a solid rebounder but not a scorer, and Jenkins struggled badly the second half of the season.

So maybe replacing those seniors won't be as difficult as you might assume.

As it stands now, Villanova won't have a senior on the floor next year, but leadership shouldn't be an issue.

Although Paschall, Booth and Bridges will be academic seniors, all should have two more years of eligibility. And Wright said earlier this week Brunson is actually already close to graduating, even though he'll be a junior on the court next year.

The Wildcats should be a better shooting team with Booth returning, a deeper team with all the additions, a stronger post team on both ends with Spellman patrolling the paint and a better defensive team, simply because Wright will be able to substitute more and go deeper.

See you in mid-November.

"Only thing I say to them is be coachable," Hart said. "They’re great basketball players but even better people. Their character is through the roof, and a lot of times it’s not about who’s the most talented, it’s not about who has the best physical gifts, it’s about character, it’s about heart, it’s about will, and that’s something that these guys have and that’s something that you guys are going to see next year.

"They're all going to have new opportunities, and I guarantee you’re going to see them grow up as people and as basketball players."

Stung by loss to Wisconsin, Jay Wright couldn't watch NCAA Tournament next day

Stung by loss to Wisconsin, Jay Wright couldn't watch NCAA Tournament next day

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- You might think after 16 years at Villanova, 24 years as an NCAA Division I head coach and 35 years coaching college hoops it might get easier for Jay Wright.

Nope.

"It's still hard," he said. "It just hurts, you know?"

Even after winning a national championship last year, Wright was still an emotional wreck Monday, two days after his top-ranked and top-seeded Villanova Wildcats were ousted from this year's NCAA Tournament, 65-62, by Wisconsin in Buffalo.

Wright said he hasn't watched a minute of college basketball since Villanova lost and said he's been passing the time diagramming plays for next year's team to run.

"It's kind of cathartic to think about next year," he said. "I couldn't (watch). I really couldn't. I'm very interested in the scores, but I really couldn't watch any games.

"I wish I had a better answer for you but it just hurts. It's part of being a competitor. You hit the highest highs and the lowest lows.

"There are a lot more serious things in the world, but it still stings and it probably will until the tournament's over."

Wright won his 500th game as a head coach this year and led Villanova to its third straight season with at least 32 wins, something no other Division I team has done.

He probably actually did one of his best coaching jobs ever this year, coaxing 32 wins and Big East regular-season and tournament championships out of an undermanned team that lost two all-time Villanova greats to graduation and then lost two projected starters for the season -- Omari Spellman to a ridiculous NCAA ruling and Phil Booth to knee pain.

Villanova's 32 wins are the most ever by a defending national champion. Wright acknowledged the championship hangover and navigated his team through it, right up to the final seconds of the Wisconsin loss.

"This is difficult," he said. "This group of seniors is so special. They're all special to me, they're all difficult. When you lose in the second round, they're tough because there's still a lot of basketball to be played and you're not in it and you're having a meeting.

"I was so proud of how they handled the repeat talk all season. It was just a great battle of two outstanding teams. They're a more veteran team than we are, and we're a veteran team. I think we just got beat by a team that played better that day. The next day we could have beaten that team."

Wright in past years has quickly converted to network TV analyst when the Wildcats have been knocked out early, but he said he has no plans to do anything like this time around.

He's exhausted, just like his team, and he just needs some down time.

"It's been a long (grind)," he said. "It seems like last season just ran right into this season and we all could use a break.

"No complaints. I would do it all over again. But I think we could all use a break. Go down to the Final Four, go to the coaches convention, which I missed last year, which was nice. You'd always rather be playing."

Wright is always the subject of job rumors, and he knows this year will be no different.

But he also said he has no plans to leave.

"I love it here," he said. "When people talk to you about a job, it's flattering and we all like to feel like we're wanted, but honestly, I like it better if it wouldn't happen because I know I don't want to go because I love it here.

"I'm very happy here and plan to be staying at Villanova."

Villanova seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds look back at unforgettable run

Villanova seniors Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins, Darryl Reynolds look back at unforgettable run

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- Less than 48 hours after their careers ended with a crushing loss to Wisconsin in Buffalo, Villanova's three seniors stood together for the last time on the practice court at the Davis Center on campus trying to make sense of it all.

Three early NCAA exits surrounding a national championship. More wins than anybody in the country since the start of the 2013-14 season but only one trip to the Sweet 16. 

"It's difficult to accept, but that's the reality of it," Josh Hart said. "We gave it everything we could. We battled. We battled our whole careers here and gave everything we could to the program.

"We had some successful years so whenever we think about it, we'll think about those years and what we accomplished. ... We gave everything we could. A call here, a call there, a made shot here, a made shot there, but that's the luck of the draw. You've got to give Wisconsin all the credit. They're a tough, talented, very experienced team. We just ran into a good team."

It's a Villanova tradition that soon after the season ends, the players meet with the media.

Last year's interview was a continuation of the elation following the national championship.

This was different, following just two days after an excruciating loss, and Hart, Darryl Reynolds and Kris Jenkins -- Villanova's three seniors and the only players Villanova made available -- spontaneously decided to stand together and answer questions as a group.

It seemed like they just wanted one more moment together.

"The camaraderie, you can't put a price on that," Reynolds said, as Jenkins and Hart nodded in agreement. "A lot of people say this will be the last time you'll be with a group of guys who are this connected because after this point it is a complete business. More than anything, we're going to miss each other.

"We're not going to hang our heads. We had great careers here, we gave it everything we had and we walk away from it with no regrets. ...

"When you come up short, it's OK because you know you put everything you had into it."

Coach Jay Wright met with the full team Monday for the final time, and part of his message was that they have plenty to be proud of. Focus on the successes and not the failures.

"They hear the criticism from the outside, and we all understand that that comes with our position in college basketball right now and you have to accept that," Wright said.

"But we were very clear to them, that what they accomplished this season and in the regular season and the Big East Tournament and even the way they comported themselves in the NCAA Tournament, they should be proud. They should be really proud. They gave great effort, they never quit, they stuck together (and) that's all you can ask of an athlete.

"If someone were to back down in that game or someone would have got a little selfish in that game, then maybe you question something. But no one did. And no one did all season.

"It was really an incredible season, we just understand that on the outside in college basketball you get evaluated by how you advance in the NCAA Tournament. And it's OK. That's fair. But we want them to be proud of their effort this season."

In the end, this Villanova team seemed gassed. With Jenkins unable to find his shot, Mikal Bridges struggling late and Phil Booth and Omari Spellman unavailable, the Wildcats were really down to three scorers -- Hart, Jalen Brunson and reserve Donte DiVincenzo. It's a tough way to win.

Wright even spoke Monday of how last year ran right into this year and it seemed like the Wildcats never got a break.

"No complaints, I would do it all over again," he said. "But I think we could all use a break."

So they won 32 games and the Big East Tournament really with a seven-man rotation and just didn't have enough in the tank the last few minutes against a Wisconsin team that was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country a month ago, has been to two Final Fours in the last three years and goes 10 deep.

"We gave everything we could to this university and we're proud of that," Jenkins said. "We're proud of how we conducted ourselves as student-athletes representing this university.

"It didn't end the way we wanted, but we had great careers and we're proud of that."

These seniors have experienced highs and lows that most college basketball players never experience.

A year ago, they were in the middle of a historic run that ended with a trip to the White House.

Now they're back on campus, back in class, back to being regular college students.

"That's what the tournament is," Wright said. "You play for high stakes and you get great rewards when you win, so you can't avoid criticism when you lose. You've just got to take it, and no one's wrong in giving it to you.

"But you've got to look at yourself and say, 'Did we do everything we could do?' You know? And I really think the guys did and I want them to be proud of their efforts and their attitude and that's what we judge ourselves on."

Hart, Jenkins and Reynolds were a part of four teams that went a combined 129-17, the 10th-most wins ever by a Division I program in a four-year span.

Villanova's worst record with these guys in the lineup was 29-5.

They were ranked as high as No. 3 in the country all four years, won the Big East regular season four times, the Big East Tournament twice and the NCAA Tournament last year.

But then there are those three early exits. In 2014, 2015 and 2017, Villanova lost as a 1- or 2-seed to an opponent seeded seventh or lower.

"It's very tough but we gave this program everything we had since we got here and we're thankful for the opportunity we've had and the relationships that we've had here and now it's time to move on and hopefully we can do some more great things in the future," Jenkins said.

"I thought we battled and we gave it all we had. No one gave up, no one quit, we left it all out there for each other. We just fell a little short."