Maybe Eric Paschall’s last appearance in a college game in Philadelphia was just right. He wasn’t the top star. That was Phil Booth, who scored 28 Saturday against Butler at the Wells Fargo Center, and really was the central face of this team, one of the faces of this era of Villanova basketball, going back to Booth’s virtuoso 20 points off the bench in the 2016 NCAA title game.
In this recent Villanova hoop era, this era of dominance, from the group that won a title in 2016 to the ‘18 team through this squad, you could make the argument — I will make the argument — that Paschall is the most underrated. Maybe the Wildcats were so loaded last season that they could have taken Paschall out and still won it. I question that. Maybe Villanova would still be back in the NCAA tournament this season without him.
I really doubt it.
“I thought he’s given of himself probably more than anybody else in my time here," said Villanova assistant coach Kyle Neptune.
Saturday, Paschall’s halftime numbers had been unnoteworthy, except he had guarded practically everybody in a Butler uniform and the Bulldogs usually chose to hunt elsewhere for their points.
After the break, the game still close, Paschall started a play, and he finished it. Paschall would have had a hockey assist after he drove and whipped a pass out to the corner and a Villanova teammate passed to another and there was a shot. Except the shot missed, which meant Paschall was at the front rim to grab the rebound for a put-back.
Two possessions later, Paschall got a Butler defender into the lane and dropped off a pass inside for an actual assist. Next play, a crosscourt pass, a three. A three-point halftime lead, quickly up to a dozen. Paschall finished with 12 points, five assists, and five rebounds in the 75-54 victory. Again, not starring numbers.
The Fox Sports people like to compare Paschall to Warriors All-Star forward Draymond Green. It’s a nice shorthand, but probably unfair, other than the fact Paschall can’t be easily pigeonholed into a position.
That might have caused some NBA scouts to ponder his future, except now, in this age of position-less basketball, Jay Wright thinks Paschall might even be better at the next level.
Villanova’s coach said Friday, with a tinge of regret, that Paschall hasn’t been featured quite the way he deserves to be, the way previous Villanova stars had it, surrounded by weapons that allowed them to fully shine.
“He’d be a killer," Wright said.
As his last season has played out, Paschall has drawn tons of defensive attention. His coach also believes he hasn’t always gotten the fair end of every whistle.
“I’ve got to be careful about how I say this," Wright had said Friday back on campus after Villanova practiced. “He is a very physical player, and all season I thought — you always use the term, don’t punish the guy for being stronger than the other guy. I think that happens to him a lot.”
Wright further explained that to his eye, defenders can sometimes initiate contact, but Paschall is so strong that the other guy often falls away and the call goes against Paschall.
The only time it seemed to get to Paschall was against Providence at home. He was visibly upset.
“Then I was getting on him about showing his frustration,” Wright said. “And usually I can just say to him, ‘Hey, next play,’ and he’s the best, ‘Yeah, I got you.’ ‘’
That’s what Wright recalls he said to him.
“He kind of lost it," Wright said. “I took him out to settle him down. It’s the only time ever in his career.”
How’d it play out? After halftime, Paschall took over.
“In the second half, he was unbelievable," his coach said.
After that game, asked about what he had been upset with, Paschall had denied any issues with anybody except with himself. Typical. He’s a name, rank, and serial number kind of guy, not searching out spotlights.
We don’t want to go too far here. Paschall led Villanova with 24 points in last season’s NCAA semifinal game against Kansas, making 10 of 11 shots. He’s not flying under any radars. He just might have to line up behind Arcidiacono, Ochefu, Hart, Jenkins, Brunson, DiVincenzo, Bridges, and Booth in the recent pantheon, and you can argue he should be smack in the middle of them, making plays.
“He can guard one through five," Villanova assistant Mike Nardi said of the positions on the court. “He can literally get down and guard a 5-9 point guard or guard their center.”
“He will be a legend in our program," Wright said. “Because we’ll talk to our young guys and say you guys see what a talent Eric Paschall is — you’re going to see him in the NBA — and he was here, taking charges.”