Key Departures: Jeremiah Robinson-Earl (NBA); Cole Swider (–>Syracuse);
New In Town: Jordan Longino (#53); Nnanna Njoku (#96); Angelo Brizzi (#160)
State of the Program:
This Villanova program is one of the most buttoned up in the country, and in an age of constant turnover and chaos Jay Wright continues to recruit, develop, and churn out NBA talents as consistently as any coach in the sport. Last year’s group was once again one of the best in the Country until the loss of star PG Collin Gillespie (SR), who will return for one last go round this season. They finished the season 0-2 without him but did crack the Sweet-16 before losing to the eventual National Champions. They do lose star Robinson-Earl to the NBA, but the return of Gillespie helps to put them back in the National conversation. Alongside Gillespie they get back starters Justin Moore (JR), Jermaine Samuels (SR), Caleb Daniels (SR) and role players Brandon Slater (SR), Eric Dixon (SO), Chris Arcidiacono (JR) and Bryan Antoine (JR) plus returning redshirt forwards Trey Patterson (FR) and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (SR) giving Wright one of the most experienced teams in the country. The key for this group to make the next step and push for a Final Four will be on the defensive end, as they finished 66th on that end, but with Wright leading the show and all of this talent returning there’s no doubt the Wildcats will be frontrunners entering the season.
One of the only programs in the country to not bring in a transfer, Villanova has a decent group of Freshman coming in to help supplement this loaded returning roster. The best of which is G Jordan Longino (#53), who enters the program as a strong athlete that has a beautiful jump shot that should translate well to this level, flashing a game similar to former Oregon Duck Dillon Brooks.. He is effective off the bounce as well, using his strength to finish through contact, making him a tough cover as he can score at all 3 levels. He has a lot of talented guys ahead of him on this roster, but I would still expect to see him get some action off the bench, and he should develop into a leader for Wright in a couple of seasons. Next up is 6’9” big man Nnanna Njoku (#96) who is an absolute physical force and has the potential to be an absolute beast in the paint. He will need to develop his skillset offensively as he really relies on bully ball and finishing above the rim at this stage. He will have time to do so as he’s behind several returning guys at the 5, but his physical gifts should allow him to become a very productive double-double threat down the line. He will likely redshirt this season but remember the name. The last newcomer is southpaw G Angelo Brizzi (#160) who also likely will face redshirt this season but has potential with some development to be a contributor down the road. Brizzi isn’t a gifted athlete but has a nice stroke from outside and fits the most of the scrappy PG Wright has been known for developing and turning into stars for this program. It won’t happen anytime soon but he could be the next in a long line of productive, under-recruited G’s for Wright.
There’s a ton of value in the cohesion that this group will have, and while they may lack the top end talent some of the favorites across the country may have Wright has consistently won at the highest levels with unheralded rosters. If there’s a clear weakness for this group it’s on the interior, as they lost Robinson-Earl and didn’t bring in a top talent to replace him. They’ll rely on two guys who redshirted last year in Freshman Patterson and Senior Cosby-Roundtree. They just need these two to be solid and rebound well, allowing the 4 returning starters to provide the punch offensively. The group of Gillespie, Moore, Samuels and Daniels is one of, if not the best, returning cores in the country, and that combination with Wright leading the show puts Villanova squarely in Final Four contention in my eyes. What will further convince me is to see them improve defensively. Finishing 66th is simply not good enough, and almost all of their losses last year can be attributed to being ineffective on that end, highlighted by the Big East Conference loss to Georgetown and bad losses to Butler and St. John’s. Nova’s two Championship teams in recent years were 11th and 5th respectively on D, and Wright has to know that is the area that could hold them back from returning to that stage. The goal for this team will be a Conference Championship and a return to the Final Four with a chance to compete for the National title once again, and anything less than that will be a disappointment.