Villanova Eliminated from NCAA Tournament at the Hands of Purdue/A Look Into Next Season

HARTFORD, CT — It’s been a while since Villanova has been on the losing end of a beatdown. Usually it’s the Wildcats delivering it to their opposition, but that was not the case on Saturday night.

“You could be on either side of it,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said “And it’s one of the things we said to the guys after the Kansas game: Give those guys respect because we came out and made every shot. It doesn’t happen every night.”

It had that vibe from the jump that this was going to be a long, long night for the defending national champs.

Three-bombs being dropped all over the floor by Purdue guard Carsen Edwards that could only be rivaled by the show that former Creighton forward Ethan Wragge put on at the Wells Fargo Center on Martin Luther King Jr. day in 2014.

Ultimately, Purdue just couldn’t stop draining their threes, and Edwards went ballistic, going for a career-high 42 points and Villanova had no answer for the Boilermakers offensive onslaught as the Wildcats fell by a final score of 87-61 at the XL Center on Saturday night.

“We just, as a staff, did not get our guys — we tried to make them understand their ability to hit threes and execute their offense with great precision,” Wright said. “And we just didn’t have them ready from the start.”

In the first half, Villanova allowed Purdue to go 9-18 from beyond the arc while the Wildcats went a measly 3-14.

Surely a blowout like this wasn’t the ideal way for Villanova seniors Phil Booth and Eric Paschall to go out in their final games as Wildcats.

“I was just sad to not play in the Villanova jersey anymore,” Paschall said trying to hold back tears. “I thank Coach Wright for everything he’s done for me. Without him, I wouldn’t be here. I guess losing in your senior year, but at the end of the day, I love Villanova.”

“This young group, they did so much and learned so much.” Booth said. “It’s just a lot. It doesn’t really sink in yet while you’re on the court, because you’re still just losing. But later on how much the University has meant to me, coaching staff, Coach Wright, players I played with. Couldn’t have asked for a better experience.”

Paschall led the Wildcats with 19 points and Booth finished with 15 points.

There was a moment towards the end of the game where sophomore wing Jermaine Samuels had tears running down his face, with Booth, standing beside him, patting him on his back, giving him words of advice.

“Just telling them how proud of them I was from this year and how much I’ve learned from them,” Booth said. “And how much they bought in to Villanova basketball and would do anything for anybody on the team. I just told them to keep your head up. You’ll be back here again. You’ll learn so much from this. Try to keep their spirits up. Those guys have done so much for me, for this team.

Some would say that this season was the best coaching job that Wright has ever had, losing four players from last year’s National Championship team and still winning the Big East title as well as the Big East Tournament and reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but next year might be an even tougher task.

As it stands, Villanova returns four players that were regulars in the Wildcats rotation this year in sophomores Samuels, Collin Gillespie, Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, as well as freshman Saddiq Bey. Freshman Cole Swider received rotational minutes, but sat out most of the Big East season with a broken hand. Freshmen Jahvon Quinerly and Brandon Slater were highly-touted recruits coming into this season, but received very little playing time this season.

They do have four freshmen coming into the program next year including two five-star recruits in Bryan Antoine and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, as well as two four-stars in Justin Moore and Eric Dixon. In an ideal world, Quinerly would be the point guard heading into next season, but is unknown what his future holds at Villanova after transfer rumors clouded his freshman season. Should he leave, it would be Gillespie to take over the point guard duties, but that’s the least of the Wildcats problems.

In this game, Purdue’s 7-foot-3 center Matt Haarms dominated the paint, scoring 18 points and grabbing nine rebounds and there was nobody on Villanova’s roster to match with him. Villanova’s tallest player is Cosby-Roundtree standing at 6-foot-9, but a lanky 226 lbs. Paschall is only 6-foot-8 but he’s 255 lbs and yet, he couldn’t bully Haarms physically in the paint like he could against other bigs.

Heading into next season, Dixon has the chance to replicate a Paschall type of player as he stands at 6-foot-7 250 lbs, but should the Wildcats match up against a guy who has at least five inches on their tallest player, they could be in big trouble.

Next year’s squad might be Wright’s youngest yet. No seniors and three juniors who spent at least half of their Villanova careers playing sporadic minutes. There isn’t a pure “scorer” that has established himself as there has been on Villanova teams of the past. Most Wright teams has had that experienced pure scorer that could get you at least 15 a game whether it’s guys like  Randy Foye, Allen Ray, Kyle Lowry, James Bell, Darrun Hilliard, Josh Hart, Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo or Booth. The lack of a dominant, physical post-presence like a Curtis Sumpter, Dante Cunningham, Mouphtaou Yarou, Daniel Ochefu, or Omari Spellman. Most of all, the lack of an experienced point guard like a Scottie Reynolds, Ryan Arcidiacono, or Jalen Brunson, could hurt Villanova next year.

But Wright and the rest of the Villanova staff does a good job at developing players and getting the most out of them and with another year of experience under some of the players belts, it could go a really long way of benefitting them to prepare for next season, and it doesn’t hurt to use this 26-point beatdown as fuel to the fire for next year.

“I like these young guys a lot, and tonight will teach them how hard you have to work to prepare every game and to play against the top teams. I hope Purdue’s a Final Four team. I think they’re good enough to be. But we have a lot of work to do.”

Not to mention that the Big East is going to be loaded next year with plenty of stars coming back. Marquette returns almost everybody including reigning Big East player of the year Markus Howard. Big East Tournament runner-up and NCAA Tournament team Seton Hall brings back their entire team minus starter Michael Nzei, but replace him with Florida State transfer and 7-foot-1 Ike Obiagu. Xavier brings back their core of Quinten Goodin, Paul Scruggs, and Naji Marshall, as well as other contributing pieces. Creighton brings back their entire starting five. Georgetown brings back their starting five minus Jessie Govan, St. John’s brings back a ton, though Shamorie Ponds’ future is unknown, and Providence and Butler bring back a majority of their roster as well.

Villanova’s going to have their hands full next season no doubt, but with Wright at the helm, you can never rule the Wildcats out of anything.

“We have a really young crew next year.” Wright said. “No seniors and these sophomores become juniors. We got a couple of these freshman we got to develop. So we’ve got a lot of work to do.

“But I’m looking forward to it.” he added.


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