By John Fanta
NEW JERSEY — An unprecedented era of Villanova Basketball has also brought uncharted waters for Jay Wright and his staff. Losing Mikal Bridges and Jalen Brunson was expected, but it was up in the air entering the NBA Draft Combine whether Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman would enter the draft as well. With them both departing, that means the Wildcats will be the talk of draft night. The four draftees are certainly a testament to the dynasty that Wright has built, but it means that others will have to step up their roles in a major way for the Wildcats to continue to be one of the best units in the nation.
Perhaps the biggest question mark related to how Villanova fares next season is the status of five-star point guard recruit Jahvon Quinerly. After decommitting from Arizona in the midst of the college basketball corruption investigation, Quinerly reopened his commitment. His eligibility is still up in the air, but if Quinerly can play, his addition cannot be overstated. Quinerly is the fifth-best point guard recruit in the 2018 class. The freshman class also includes two four-star talents in 6-foot-7 power forward Cole Swider and 6-foot-6 wing Brandon Slater.
As for what we do know, it’s that guard Phil Booth and stretch-four Eric Paschall will be looked at as the leaders on the roster. Also, don’t sleep on Villanova’s rising sophomores. Wright said again and again that he thinks big things are ahead for Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree and Jermaine Samuels, but that they didn’t get the complete opportunity to shine this past year because of the stars in front of them. Watch out particularly for Gillespie. While it was an ongoing joke that he caused people to do a double take looking like a Ryan Arcidiacono clone, maybe that can actually translate to Gillespie’s development. The progression of the sophomore point guard will be critical, especially with a lot of unknown surrounding Quinerly – at least for now.
When Chris Mullin returned to his alma mater in April of 2015, the thought was that it could take three to four years for the legendary St. John’s player to get the Red Storm back on track as their head coach. Well, all of the pieces are aligning for SJU to contend in the BIG EAST once again in 2018-19. The backcourt has the makings of the best in the conference with Shamorie Ponds returning alongside the versatile Justin Simon. Add in Quinnipiac transfer Mikey Dixon as well, and that trio as is has scary potential.
If 6-foot-5 Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron’s hardship waiver goes through and he is granted eligibility, the All-SEC Second Team selection would be the cherry on top for Mullin’s guard core.
The concern for the Red Storm? Rebounding. But here’s the good news – All-time BIG EAST Rebounder Angel Delgado is gone from Seton Hall as well as Villanova’s Omari Spellman. So, while St. John’s will miss Tariq Owens, the Red Storm is in a league filled with frontcourt questions entering next season.
While the rest of the BIG EAST deals with replacing top-tier scorers, Marquette has an unlimited amount of options. The Golden Eagles’ offensive fire power has the potential to overwhelm the conference next season, and the NBA Draft decisions that we’ve seen from Spellman and DiVincenzo just magnify what MU can do next year. On paper, I would argue that Steve Wojciechowski’s Golden Eagles have the most complete roster in the league. What will determine what Marquette does in March? Defense and rebounding. The Golden Eagles are going to be able to outscore plenty of teams next year, but their defensive efficiency is something that they’ll look to continue to address. In terms of getting on the glass, expect Nebraska transfer Ed Morrow to bolster those efforts. As a sophomore for the Huskers in 2016-17, Morrow averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds, owning a top-30 offensive rebounding percentage in the country. The hope for MU is that rising sophomore Theo John comes into his own more as well. He averaged 3.9 points and 2.3 boards as a freshman. Combine those two with the seasoned Matt Heldt, and that’s what the Golden Eagles will look like down low.
- Here’s what we know about Seton Hall – Myles Powell will be the Pirates’ star. The BIG EAST’s Most Improved Player of this past season rose to the occasion several times for Kevin Willard. With the senior class gone, it’s on Cheese to lead. The question is who will be the Pirates’ second option. In an undersized league, high-impact Syracuse transfer Taurean Thompson has a door to step into in South Orange. The 6-foot-10 Thompson has the potential to be the perfect replacement for Angel Delgado. If he can deliver, The Hall will once again be a factor in the conference.
- Watch out for Butler. Again. With an experienced backcourt of Kamar Baldwin, lockdown defender Aaron Thompson, Paul Jorgensen and the addition of Duke transfer Jordan Tucker, the Dawgs have the pieces to dance again next March. Nate Fowler and Joey Brunk will have to increase their roles in the paint, but LaVall Jordan loves his guards in his high-tempo system.
- You know what the constant has been for Providence to make five straight Big Dance appearances for the first time in program history? Ed Cooley and point guard play. First, it was Bryce Cotton leading the Friars to a BIG EAST Tournament crown in 2014. Then, it was Kris Dunn, who’s now a Chicago Bull. Then, Kyron Cartwright took over and carried the momentum. Waiting in wings are rising sophomore Makai Ashton-Langford and four-star recruit David Duke. No drop-off out of Providence’s point guard play is expected.
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