Indianapolis– It was always going to be an uphill battle to take down the 2nd overall seeded Baylor Bears, but for a team that was without their star Point Guard Collin Gillespie for the entirety of March, Villanova gave them a hell of a fight.
Obviously it’s disappointing whenever a season comes to a close, but the fact that Villanova even reached the second weekend given the circumstances they were in, warrants a lot of credit.
After losing a shocker to eventual Big East Tournament Champions Georgetown in their first Big East Tournament game, many wondered how these Wildcats would look in the NCAA Tournament. Once the bracket was released, Villanova was that ever-so-haunted 5-seed taking on the upset happy 12 seed in Winthrop, who came into the NCAA Tournament only having one loss the entire season.
Many people seemed to write Villanova off ahead of that matchup, but the Wildcats prevailed. Up next was a North Texas team that just shot the lights out against 4-seed Purdue. Villanova steamrolled them.
Regardless of their opponents seeds, those were two super impressive games where a guy such as Jeremiah Robinson-Earl showed why he is a co-Big East Player of the Year.
It looked like Villanova’s stay in the Indianapolis bubble was going to be extended at halftime, when the Wildcats took a 30-23 lead into the locker room at the half. Baylor was playing uncharacteristically bad, shooting 2/12 from 3 in the first frame, something that the Bears lead the country in (3-point percentage, shooting it at a 41 percent clip).
But the strength of Baylor’s defense showed up midway through the second half, forcing five consecutive turnovers on five Villanova offensive possessions.
“They really got into our guards and prevented us from initiating offense.” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “They just contested every pass, every cut. And it did make us — it actually took us out of running offense and we had to try to just kind of drive the ball and try to get some post-ups, but we didn’t do a good job of that.”
“But I think the credit goes to their defense.” Wright added.
Sure, Baylor’s defense was suffocating, as it always was, and it absolutely contributed to some of the turnovers, but some of the Villanova turnovers were self-inflicted bad passes going out of bounds, a rare sight to see.
Perhaps if Villanova had Gillespie this game, maybe they clean up at least half of those turnovers, but nonetheless, give the Wildcats credit for hanging tough with one of the consensus top two teams in the nation in Baylor.
Part of the reason Villanova hung around so long was the defensive job they did on Baylor star guards Jared Butler, who is a first team All-American, and MaCio Teague, holding them to just 14 points combined.
“We really tried to emphasize those three guards — (Davion) Mitchell, Butler and Teague.” Wright said. “And we did do a decent job. Mitchell got going a little bit. I thought we did a really good job defensively.”
And so wraps up a season unlike any other for Villanova. After a hot start to the season, Villanova was sent into quarantine and pause twice with one day of practice in-betweem, essentially cutting out an entire month of games. After the pause, Gillespie went down with the torn MCL, and then the Wildcats made a run to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
“When it finally hit, everybody was just thankful that we were part of this journey and that we were on it together.” Villanova forward Jermaine Samuels said. “Everybody, from coaching staff to managers, the GAs, just grateful for each other. It’s been a hell of a year.”
The NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility for all seniors this season, which means you could see Samuels, Gillespie, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, who was out the entire year with injury, all back next season.
“Honestly, I’m probably not even going to think about it.” Samuels said, regarding if he’s going to return or leave. “I’m probably going to keep my mind off of basketball for a little bit, try to decompress everything and just take my time. And once the time comes I’ll see what my options are.”
Which leads us to taking a look into the future.
The three big questions heading into this offseason for Villanova are:
- Which of the seniors are staying or leaving?
- Is Jeremiah Robinson-Earl leaving?
- Who is going to transfer in or out?
Let’s take a look at the first question.
There is a possibility that you see all three of Samuels, Gillespie, and Cosby-Roundtree run it back one last time. Maybe they want to play their final season in a Villanova uniform in front of some fans. Maybe Gillespie wants to play in a Big East Tournament and NCAA Tournament again after having both of them taken away from him due to things out of his control (’20 Coronavirus, ’21 Torn MCL). Maybe Cosby-Roundtree wants to play a season fully healthy after being relatively banged up his entire Villanova career.
It’s unclear what the thought process of those guys are this offseason, and in regards to Gillespie, we’re going to have to see when he’ll be fully recovered from the torn MCL (Word seems to be around June-ish).
You bring two or three of those guys back, Wright is going to have depth like he’s never seen before, but for now, that’s up in the air.
As for Robinson-Earl, looking at most NBA Mock Drafts, they have him anywhere between a first-round pick and undrafted. Maybe he comes back and wants to have postseason success. I think he’ll certainly test the NBA draft waters, but will he stay in the draft? His stock certainly improved this NCAA tournament run as he showed he can do a lot of things on both the offensive and defensive end. Problem with Robinson-Earl when it comes to his NBA profile is his size. He’s 6-foot-9, 240 lbs. That’s too big to be a small forward, and too small to be a power forward, so it’s unclear where he’ll slot in on an NBA team.
“He’s got the maturity and the intelligence and definitely the talent.” Wright said of Robinson-Earl. “Even when we couldn’t get him the ball he went to the offensive glass. He does everything defensively for us. I don’t think he’ll be a senior in college. So I definitely think he played like one.”
Finally, it’s unknown who will be transferring in and out of the program, but given that the transfer portal has about 1,000 names in it, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a guy or two transfer in or out.
Some more questions that we’ll get answered down the line is the rotation, who’s going to redshirt and what the guard situation is going to look like. Wright alluded to it a few weeks ago that Justin Moore will likely be the Point Guard heading into next year, but did he like enough of what he saw from Chris Arcidiacono? Little Arch didn’t leave much to be desired from a scoring end and on defense, but he was very clean with the ball and ran the offense pretty well.
“I want to sit back and look at this season.” Wright said. “I think we’ve got a lot of room to grow. We’ve got a lot of potential. But I’m really proud of this group. I think our guard play has got to improve.”
Looking at impact guys coming into the program next season, 4-star wing Trey Patterson got a head start and arrived on campus second semester this year and even got into some game action, albeit when the game was already out of hand. 4-star guard Jordan Longino out of Germantown Academy comes into the guard rotation next year, and 4-star big man Nnanna Njoku looks to bring a presence down low with his 6-foot-9, 245 frame. 3-star guard Angelo Brizzi is a sharpshooter and can play meaningful minutes next season.
It’s going to be an offseason worth monitoring more than ever before, but Villanova certainly has a lot to take away from this final game.
“We can learn a lot from this.” Wright said. “We talked to the guys about that in the locker room. You play a good opponent like Baylor, a great opponent. And you give them credit and you learn from them. Their defensive intensity, their ability to take care of the basketball in the offensive end, their efficiency in a tight game like that, you gotta see that’s what it takes to advance. And then you’ve got to get to work in the offseason and really concentrate on those skills.”