Photo courtesy of Villanova University Athletics.
By David Cordova
This year, there has been one team in the Big East Conference that has stood out more than others. Whenever they come to another school’s gym, the games are sold out and there is always a great game played, as well as great coaching.
The Villanova Wildcats have always been a superb team, year in and year out. But this year, they’ve done what everyone has expected them to: win the big games. For a period of two months, from the second week of December, when they were in the midst of winning their first thirteen games of the season, until February 10th, the Wildcats were ranked the No. 1 team in the nation in the Associated Press poll.
Today, they are 25-4 overall, ranked at No. 3 in the AP poll and sit at second place in Big East Conference play with a 12-4 record, behind Xavier.
What is the key to the Wildcats success, one may ask? In an era in which there are plenty of college programs suffering from the one-and-done effect, Villanova has managed to keep their players in school for two years or more. Because the players have stayed there much longer, the program has had senior-laden squads that have helped lead them to appearances in the NCAA Tournament consistently for the last 13 years.
All of that in part to the brilliance of head coach Jay Wright, who is a great teacher of the game who gets the most out of his players and has them playing good basketball.
In the backcourt, Villanova has a strong backcourt in junior Jalen Brunson (19.3 points and 4.1 assists per game), a player that is in the running for Naismith Memorial National Player of the Year honors, junior Phil Booth (11.4 points per game), who is coming off an injury that sidelined him for five weeks, but is a very dangerous shooter. Then, they have redshirt sophomore Donte DiVincenzo (14 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game), who is athletic, but can also dominate as far as scoring and defense. Lastly, there is also Collin Gillespie (4.6 points), a freshman who gives in good minutes when he gets in games.
In the front court, they have two juniors in Eric Paschall (10.3 points and 4.6 rebounds per game), who is a force in the paint who rebounds and throws down powerful dunks, and Mikal Bridges (17.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game), who is a scoring threat whenever he gets into the lane and also in the perimeter. Also, a part of the front court are two freshmen who are of great help in the front court in Omari Spellman (11 points and 7.7 rebounds per game) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (3.3 points and 2.6 rebounds per game).
On and off the court, the Wildcats are like a family. As evidenced during their Senior Day on February 21st at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where they host most of their home games. In a 93-62 rout of DePaul, the Wildcats dominated from start to finish, with even their senior walk-ons such as Tom Leibig and Denny Grace getting into the action with a couple of shots towards the end that had the crowd of over 10,000 people roaring.
The thing that comes with being a highly-ranked team is the fact that it comes with being every opponent’s big game. All of their four losses came in conference play to Butler, St. John’s, Providence and Creighton, respectively. However, this season, they have been very good outside of the Big East with a 13-0 record in non-conference play.
Now, the Wildcats have two more regular season games to left in the Big East, against Seton Hall on February 28th on the road in Newark, New Jersey and on March 3rd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia against Georgetown. The following week will be the Big East Tournament in New York during the week of March 7-10th at Madison Square Garden. And after that, will be the NCAA Tournament, where the Wildcats will make another appearance as a result of their outstanding play.
Two years ago, the Wildcats hoisted their a national championship, their second in school history. Last season, they were Big East Tournament champions, but were eliminated early in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. But this year’s team looks like they have the chance to go very far, barring a major upset. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt that Villanova is a team to beat, in the Big East, and beyond.