After an overtime loss to Creighton on Saturday Feb. 24, the Villanova Wildcats have now lost three games in the short month of February. Villanova currently has a record of 25-4 (12-4 in Big East play). Four Big East regular season losses are uncharacteristic for the Cats and are the most they have suffered since the 2012-13 season. This is very unusual for Jay Wright and company, but the Cats are still on pace for a No. 1 seed come March. But should fans still be worried?
Nova Nation, take a deep breath. The Wildcats should be fine.
Managing a Short Rotation
To begin with, fans have to remember a senior class that generated the most wins in program history graduated last year. Josh Hart is currently a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers, Kris Jenkins made “the shot” against North Carolina, and Darryl Reynolds was an anchor on defense in the low-post. Those three are a tough trio to replace, having all starred on the 2016 Villanova team that won the National Title.
Oddly enough, three rotation players suffered a broken hand this season. Freshman guard Collin Gillespie fractured a bone in his left hand on Dec. 8 and was sidelined for eight games. Fellow freshman, Jermaine Samuels, broke a bone in his left hand on Dec. 28 versus DePaul. He missed 10 games. To add insult to injury, on Jan. 23, starting guard Phil Booth broke a bone in his shooting hand versus Providence. He had to sit out seven games as well. Forward Eric Paschall also had to sit two games in February due to a concussion.
Jay Wright has done a solid job of managing a short rotation, despite not having key players for majority of the year. Sophomore Donte Divincenzo has benefitted the most and seems to always be ready no matter his role. He is averaging a career best in points (14.0), rebounds (4.7), and assists (3.3) this year.
Villanova’s Killer Bs
The bread and butter of this team are the killer Bs (Jalen Brunson & Mikal Bridges). The junior duo has emerged as a solid one-two punch. Both will be playing professional basketball in the future.
Brunson has been in the AP Player of the Year discussion due to his consistency. He is a point guard that is fundamentally sound and has an incredible basketball IQ. Brunson leads Villanova in scoring, averaging 19.3 points a game, but in losses has a tendency to force his shots. Over the last six games, Brunson is shooting just 15% (5-32) from three. He will need to refine his shooting in order for Nova to finish the season strong.
Mikal Bridges has the physical tools and skill-set to play in the NBA next year. At 6’6″ with a wiry 210 pound frame, he possess a 7’0″ wingspan that gives him great length as a perimeter defender. Bridges is also shooting a career best 41 percent from three this season. He has added an improved catch and shoot ability, which was on full display in their 95-79 victory over Xavier on Feb. 17. For Bridges, he has to continue to attack the basket and drive as oppose to relying on his jumper.
No.1 Seed Still Achievable
Villanova closes out Big East play at Seton Hall on Wednesday, and at home Mar. 3rd hosting rival Georgetown. Although it has not been a dominant regular season outing, Nova remains ranked fourth in the latest AP Poll. If the Cats can muster together two wins to finish conference play, there is a chance they can win the Big East regular season title for a fifth year in a row. They also own the tiebreaker over the No. 1 team in the conference, Xavier, having defeated them twice this year.
Nova Nation has to realize the Cats are indeed the hunted in the Big East, and they will get every team’s best shot. With Phil Booth back healthy, it’s important for him to find his rhythm in these next two games. Guys like Omari Spellman and Colin Gillespie are developing as well. If the team is able to click, Jay Wright could be cutting down the nets in Madison Square Garden for a second year in a row en route to a No. 1 seed.