Despite having no scholarship seniors, Villanova maintained its status last season as the beast of the Big East, tying for the conference’s regular-season championship in an extremely competitive league. The Wildcats finished 24-7 overall and 13-5 in the Big East.

The Wildcats enter the 2020-21 season considered by many to be legitimate contenders for their third national championship in six years. Four starters return, their depth is strong and their three seniors will provide the leadership that coach Jay Wright craves. And Wright has exhibited more than once that he knows how to get the best out of his team.

The Cats lost just one starter, albeit a significant one. Forward Saddiq Bey, who entered the NBA Draft, was a unanimous All-Big East selection and AP honorable mention All-America who led the team in scoring and shot 45.1% from three-point range, fourth in the nation.

Still, there are multiple candidates to fill his spot, something Wright joked about when talking about how happy his players were that Bey would follow his dream and stay in the draft.

“I said to them, ‘I know why you’re psyched, because that’s playing time, that’s a lot of minutes,’ ” he said.

Departure

NBA Draft

Saddiq Bey, 6-foot-8, 216-pound wing, 16.1 points per game

From the time he became the last of four players from the Class of 2018 to commit to Villanova, Bey made remarkable progress. He evolved from someone who was asked to defend and rebound as a freshman, found his offense by the end of that season, and sharply improved to where he ended the season as the winner of the Julius Erving Award given to the nation’s best small forward.

“When we put together a scouting report, whoever the best player was on the other team, whatever position, he guarded him,” Wright said. “When the game was on the line, the ball was in his hands, and we were going to him. That’s how far he came in two years.”

Who gets Bey’s minutes?

Brian Antoine, 6-foot-5, 175-pound sophomore wing, 1.1 points per game

A five-star recruit when he signed with Villanova, Antoine underwent shoulder surgery at the end of May last year and a long and difficult rehabilitation limited him to 16 games. He has the total package – three-point range, creating his own shot, getting to the rim, defending – but the lack of summer team workouts because of the pandemic hasn’t helped him.

Cole Swider, 6-foot-9, 219-pound junior wing, 6.1 points per game

Swider finished fourth on the team last season in three-point baskets with 38 and shot 35.2% from deep, but his effectiveness diminished toward the end of the season, hitting just 25% of his threes in Big East play. He has progressed slowly at the defensive end and how he plays there is likely to determine his place in the rotation.

Brandon Slater, 6-foot-6, 202-pound junior forward, 1.6 points per game

Slater is the Wildcats’ energy guy, someone who hustles all over the court, especially on defense and under the boards. He is a force on the fast break but his shooting range is limited. His work in defending and rebounding will keep him on the floor but he needs to be more of a factor offensively.

Finally, a senior nucleus

Collin Gillespie, 6-foot-3, 191-pound senior point guard, 15.1 points, 4.6 assists per game

Wright loves Gillespie’s toughness and his leadership on and off the court. He is the top returning scorer and the No. 1 returning three-point shooter, having knocked down 70 threes last season. He can get hot as depicted by his seven games of 20 or more points.

Jermaine Samuels, 6-foot-7, 222-pound senior forward, 10.7 points, 5.5 rebounds per game

Samuels is a fine all-around player who gives the Wildcats what they need when they need it in terms of rebounding, defending and blocking shots. He is sneaky-good on offense; he sank the game-winning three-pointer in the win over No. 1 Kansas, and his 19 points were valuable in the victory at No. 8 Seton Hall.

Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree, 6-foot-9, 228-pound senior center, 1.8 points per game

Cosby-Roundtree has struggled with a shin problem that’s had him play a majority of games at less than 100 percent, but he is an influential voice and leader of this team.

Not freshmen anymore

Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, 6-foot-9, 232-pound forward/center, 10.5 points, 9.4 rebounds per game

The Wildcats plucked this five-star Kansas native away from the Jayhawks and he lived up to his billing, winning Big East freshman of the year honors. He exhibits a veteran’s poise and savvy with his ability to rebound and defend in the paint, and he posted nine double-doubles last season.

Justin Moore, 6-foot-4, 210-pound combo guard, 11.3 points per game

Like Robinson-Earl, Moore exhibited a maturity of a player older than a freshman. He hit 61 three-point baskets, including some clutch ones at key moments. He was a potent sixth man at times during the season but wound up starting 17 games, 10 in Big East play.

Players you will see for the first time

Eric Dixon, 6-foot-8, 250-pound redshirt freshman forward

The Wildcats had enough in the front court last season to allow Wright to redshirt Dixon, the Pennsylvania high school player of the year as a senior at Abington High School. Dixon learned the ways of Villanova basketball and got in shape for the competition he’ll see this season. He is a legitimate power player who can step out for the jumper.

Caleb Daniels, 6-foot-4, 205-pound redshirt junior guard

Daniels sat out last season after transferring from Tulane, where he played two seasons and led the Green Wave with a 16.9-point average as a sophomore. He said at the time of his transfer that he would work on his defense and his three-point shooting, two requirements of the way the Cats play.

Chris Arcidiacono, 6-foot-5, 197-pound sophomore guard

The brother of former Wildcats star Ryan Arcidiacono was seen last season, but only for 19 minutes in eight games while scoring one three-point basket. He is a fine shooter and look for Wright to find a way to get him into what is a crowded rotation.