College basketball is officially back this week, and six long months after Virginia won its first title, the ball tipped off at center court last night. Tuesday was headlined by the Champions Classic featuring a matchup between Kansas (3) and Duke (4), followed by Michigan State (1) and Kentucky (2). However, the Villanova Wildcats were also back in action, collecting an easy win over Army.
Based on what we saw in the preseason, I will break down the Wildcats’ roster, along with what I believe the rotation will look like. The 2019-2020 version of the Villanova Wildcats will be built slightly different than in years past, with no seniors, few established ball handlers, and not a lot of depth. For the first time since the 2011-2012 season, Jay Wright will have no seniors in the starting lineup and will rely on a trio of juniors to lead this young group.
However, this team is not without experience. They return four key rotation players from last year’s Big East Championship team, and the three juniors were all around for the 2018 National Championship run. Jay Wright and staff will hand the keys over to Collin Gillespie who will run the point. Other than him and back up point guard Justin Moore, however, there are not too many ball handlers on the team. Look for Jermaine Samuels and Saddiq Bey to occasionally bring the ball up to give their PG a possession off.
Building off those two, this team is loaded with talent on the wings, but I will touch on that later. Villanova should roll out a starting five that can compete with just about every team in the country, but beyond that, they are slim and unproven. The injury to Bryan Antoine certainly contributes to this, but even upon his return, they will be young and untested. Now for the roster breakdown.
Collin Gillespie will look to build off his first year in the starting lineup and take another step forward both as a player and a leader. Now that he is the primary ball-handler and will run the offense, look for his scoring to become more consistent. In the 2018-2019 season, he averaged just under 11 points but had three games over 17 points and made at least three 3-pointers in each of those games*. However, that was balanced out by four games where he had less than six points, with one or fewer threes*. Look for his scoring to stabilize in the mid-teens now that he will be the go-to scorer early in the season for the ‘Cats.
I also look forward to lineups that feature both Gillespie and freshman Justin Moore, with Gillespie getting some time as a two-guard. Here he can focus on getting his shots and should produce very good 3-point shooting numbers. One area I want Gillespie to excel in this season will be in late-game scenarios. Collin loves having the ball in his hands and certainly won’t shy away from this role, but executing in high-pressure situations is always easier said than done. Last season, late-game stretches would rarely see the ball out of Phil Booth or Eric Paschall’s hands, but with their departure, expect Collin to be taking the big shots.
Gillespie Season Projection: 14 ppg / 4 apg / 2 rpg
Saddiq Bey was last season’s break out freshman who quickly worked his way into the starting lineup and impressed all season long. Expect him to take another step forward this year. Last year, Bey consistently showed the ability to find his shots in the offense; this season, look for the offense to run through Bey. One of the more impressive aspects of Bey’s game last season was his play out of the post, with Villanova expected to have very good wings and shooters around the perimeter, I expect plenty of faux post-ups for Bey, either scoring the ball or kicking it out to the open man. Bey should be a featured member of this offense, and if he can improve his 3-point shot, he can be a killer scorer this season.
Bey Season Projections: 16 ppg / 4 apg / 5 rpg
Jermaine Samuels may be the most important key to this season. He showed flashes last season, highlighted by a 29 point, 9 rebound performance against Marquette*. If he can be a star consistently, he could be one of the premier players in not only the Big East but in the NCAA as well. When Samuels is playing fluid and confident, he has a very capable shot and can attack the rim with power. However, he also has games where he seems lost on offense and gets into trouble defensively with stupid fouls, like at Georgetown where he fouled out in 15 minutes without recording a point*.
However, with his athleticism and offensive ability, if he can take a step up, he can be a monster this season. Villanova will need him to improve defensively as they are missing that lock down defender that can defend multiple positions and take away the opponent’s best player. Between his strength and athleticism, Samuels should be able to fill this role. However, he often finds himself in the wrong position and out of place. If he can improve his defensive awareness and cut down on meaningless fouls, he can be a very good defender.
Samuels Season Projections: 15 ppg / 2 apg / 5 rpg
Jeremiah Robinson-Earl is just one of the highly touted freshmen entering the fold this season for the Wildcats. At Big East Media Day, he was voted Preseason Freshman of the Year by the league’s coaches. He is expected to play a big role on this team. Game one last night did nothing to dispel those expectations. Robinson-Earl finished with a team-high 24 points and 13 rebounds. I think JRE will continue his day one impact moving forward. He is a smooth wing player who can score on the inside and also knock down a jump shot with ease. His length should also be valuable on defense, and he may assume the role at the top of Villanova’s 1-2-2 three quarter court soft pressure.
His size should also allow Villanova to play small while still having 6’9” JRE man the middle. Jeremiah should take full advantage of his playing time to solidify his role in the starting lineup before Bryan Antoine returns, who will certainly be looking to break into the first five. Jay Wright does tend to have a bias towards experience, so it will be interesting to see if Cole Swider pushes him for minutes, but expect Robinson-Earl to get major minutes with the starters.
Robinson-Earl Season Projections: 12 ppg / 3 apg / 5 rpg
Justin Moore was the fifth starter on opening night, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone else in the starting lineup. Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree will be the force defending the middle this year. I expect his impact to be much bigger on defense and on the glass than it will be on offense. Assuming Wright doesn’t completely overhaul his offensive scheme, DCR will likely be a high-volume screen setter and use dribble hand-offs to get ball handlers on downhill drives.
Cosby-Roundtree will certainly get his fair share of shots from rolling to the basket and cleaning up around the rim. He will just have to prove he can finish those opportunities. His defensive presence will be more important. While he isn’t a lock-down defender, DCR’s impact cannot be understated. He has a somewhat surprising versatility and switches onto ball handlers effectively in the pick-and-roll. In the paint, DCR has a solid shot blocking ability and guards the post well.
Season Projections: 6 ppg / 9 rpg / 1 apg
While I see a lot of potential in this starting lineup, the bench rotation is rather thin and very unproven. However, if one or two of them make big improvements from last season, they can add great value to this team. Bryan Antoine, the highly ranked 5-star freshman, is still out and recovering from shoulder surgery over the summer. However, once he gets healthy, he should immediately contribute on the court. Antoine is a very gifted scorer and can get it done at all three levels. He should be able to create roster competition for the starting five. A roster competition certainly isn’t a bad thing, and knowing Jay Wright’s history, he will likely give all six players starter type minutes, utilizing quick subs.
Cole Swider might be the player I am most excited to see develop this season. Now that he has a season under his belt, I look for him to build on his play and become more confident. He has the potential to be the best shooter on the team and could be deadly from three this year (he was 4-6 from deep last night on his way to an 18 point night). His size also leads to great versatility as a stretch 4.
Justin Moore might be the most important bench piece this season (unless, of course, he continues to start). Villanova is loaded at wing, but what they lack is another primary ball handler to complement Gillespie. He needs to provide valuable minutes at the point, giving Gillespie a rest or allowing Gillespie to slide to the shooting guard position. If he can continue the momentum he has been building this offseason and a stellar outing in the “secret” scrimmage against North Carolina, he is poised to be the breakout freshman for the ‘Cats.
Brandon Slater will be an interesting player to watch this season. He is incredibly athletic and has been working on refining much of his raw skill, especially his shot. But how will Jay Wright utilize him? I believe Slater can provide a high energy boost deep in the bench. If he can develop, he will turn a relatively thin bench into a very deep and potent bench.
I believe Eric Dixon will be this season’s project. He will likely get a chance to prove himself with solid minutes in early season games, but I think this roster is a bit too crowded for him to see real minutes once Big East play begins. However, the future is very bright for the local talent. He is a mismatch nightmare as he has solid ball handling and nice touch, even from deep. He can turn into a very nice stretch big man with patience and development.
Chris Arcidiacono will need the most development of these freshmen, however he may have the best foundation in the “Villanova Attitude.” Following in the footsteps of his brother Ryan, he will have no shortage of heart and hustle in any minutes he gets on the court this year. Looking to the future, he also has a workable jump shot and could become a solid shooting guard in the coming years.
Tune in November 13 as the Wildcats have a significantly more difficult test than opening night, as they take on the #18 ranked team in the country, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
*Stats taken from player’s Sports-Reference page.