Next season starts immediately. You walk in the door at Villanova as a freshman or transfer, they start sizing you up, right on the court. Eric Paschall showed up as a Fordham transfer, got into a pickup game, started diving on the floor. He’s one of us came the quick opinion from older teammates.
Caleb Daniels showed up as a transfer from Tulane, got into a one-on-one game with Collin Gillespie, started taking it to Gillespie big-time, forcing Gillespie to bring his A game right back at Daniels. How’d that work out? You saw it from both of them in this NCAA Tournament, how there’s no Final Four run without them both.
Villanova players apparently saw it from Saddiq Bey when he showed up four years ago with less fanfare than other freshmen, proved right away he was ready to start – the kind of ballplayer who could go to the NBA after two years and be a legit scorer and all-round player at the next level, it turns out.
Naturally, the future didn’t come up when Villanova went down to Kansas on Saturday night. The look was all back, to the game-changing contributions of Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels, and the serious injury to Justin Moore. All of that was too front and center, to even ask Jay Wright, “So what do you think of what you’ve got coming back?”
You never really know these days. Daniels and Brandon Slater could move on. They’ve been in school four years, can take their degree and go make money playing basketball. Of course, now they can stay and make money, get the NIL endorsement deals that Gillespie and Samuels had first call on this season. Last week, Slater said he passed on the couple of opportunities this season, wanted to concentrate on being a first-year starter. Daniels said he didn’t have any real offers.
They should do what’s right for them, period. Let’s assume both are back, along with Eric Dixon at center. That’s a pretty strong core right there, enough to assure a preseason ranking. We can’t make any assumptions about Moore, whether his recovery from surgery for a torn Achilles tendon will be in the six-to-nine month range, or whether all of next season is in doubt. All to be determined. A team that starts with Moore-Daniels-Dixon-Slater starts next season well into the top ten. Add Jordan Longino to that … formidable.
Without Moore playing in the months ahead, Villanova will have decisions to make. Could Daniels take over the point? Yes, he could handle the task. Is that the best use of his skills? That’s a better question, maybe to be determined.
Could Villanova reach into the transfer portal and find a point guard? A tough task, to nail that, to get not just the right player but one that fits in with all these vets and makes them better.
Or maybe Angelo Brizzi proves after his redshirt year he is ready to take the wheel. Maybe Chris Arcidiacono shows that 30 minutes a night is entirely in his wheelhouse. Maybe Mark Armstrong comes in as a freshman and proves right away he is Bey-like in his readiness.
The Villanova puzzle is always interesting. Does Bryan Antoine get those sixth-starter minutes Jay Wright likes to give to one player who is basically another starter? Or does he start? Does Trey Patterson compete for the minutes Samuels leaves behind? Does Nnanna Njoku get into next season fully healthy, ready to provide big-man relief?
Another huge X factor: Does Cam Whitmore, easily the most ballyhooed of the incoming freshmen, prove that eye-opening McDonald’s All-American game performance (19 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists) translates immediately to helping Villanova win basketball games? If the answer to that is yes, Wright always finds minutes for such players. Think Jalen Brunson, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, Bey, and many earlier examples.
From the outside, the frontcourt looks stocked, and the ability to play smaller is maintained. If Moore is back and decides he’s in to play next season, whenever that is, the backcourt minutes are mostly taken. It will take someone doing some special things just to get on the court. Another incoming freshman, Brendan Hausen, a top-50 recruit from Texas, fits that category. They don’t necessarily need his minutes at guard, unless he comes in and demands them.
Let’s say the best-case scenarios happen for Villanova – Moore eventually is back, Whitmore is ready to help – that’s a top five preseason team right there. That’s also a lot of things needing to go right, when we all know life doesn’t always work like that.
Just remember, the competition starts immediately, and eventually we get around to asking about the day in the gym three years back that told the future a little bit, even if nobody else was around.
The answers don’t always reveal themselves in early pickup situations. You have to learn the plays, and the nuances that make them work, and how the defense operates. Usually, that takes time.
This Villanova program just has the rare luxury of offering it.