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Villanova must battle in a tough Big East Conference without a single scholarship senior

The Wildcats have no scholarship seniors or fourth-year juniors on their roster for the first time since the 2007-08 season. "It scares the hell out of me," Jay Wright said.

Coach Jay Wright huddles his team after Villanova’s Blue White Scrimmage on Oct. 10, 2019 at Finneran Pavilion.
Coach Jay Wright huddles his team after Villanova’s Blue White Scrimmage on Oct. 10, 2019 at Finneran Pavilion.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

NEW YORK -- Go down the list of 2019-20 Big East team rosters and you’re likely to find a senior who fills a vital role, players such as Myles Powell of Seton Hall, Markus Howard of Marquette, Alpha Diallo of Providence, and Kamar Baldwin of Butler.

As for Villanova, which has had a wealth of seniors anchoring its teams over the years, the cupboard holding the scholarship seniors is bare. In fact, there’s not even a fourth-year player on the roster. The oldest players are three juniors -- Colin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, and Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree.

“It scares the hell out of me, it really does,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said Thursday during Big East media day at Madison Square Garden.

In a close race last year, Villanova won the regular-season championship, its fifth in six years, by one game over Marquette. Wright credited his two fifth-year seniors, Phil Booth and Eric Paschall, for getting the team in first place after a close duel all season.

“That’s how we won it in the end,” he said. “Everybody else was really close. Seton Hall’s guys were really close. Markus Howard [of Marquette] was player of the year, and that’s why it ended up that way. It was so close. I think in the end it came down to two fifth-year seniors and we don’t have that, and we know that. So we have to find our way by the end of the year.”

In addition to the three juniors, the Wildcats’ roster distribution by class includes three sophomores and five freshmen. Another scholarship player, sophomore Caleb Daniels, a transfer from Tulane, is sitting out the season under NCAA rules.

This is the first time the Wildcats haven’t had a senior or a redshirt junior on their roster since the 2007-08 season, a Sweet 16 team that had juniors Dante Cunningham, Dwayne Anderson and Shane Clark, and sophomore Scottie Reynolds. That team reached the Final Four the following season.

Wright, who traditionally puts a lot on the plate of his seniors, is doing the same this year with the juniors and called them “great leaders on and off the court.” But the pressure is really on once the games begin.

“Now you’re going to get on the court and you are the guys that the other team knows,” he said. “They’re the guys they’re going to try to stop, they know all your tendencies, they’ve got all the analytics on you. You’ve got to still lead the team when things are going well and they’re not. So that’s the next step for these guys.”

Antoine update

Wright said freshman guard Bryan Antoine, a five-star recruit from Tinton Falls, N.J., who underwent surgery in June for a torn labrum in his right shoulder, is not expected to start practicing until late November.

Wright said Antoine, who played his entire senior season at the Ranney School with the injury, hasn’t touched a basketball since his final high school game. While he said redshirting Antoine is “always a possibility” he first wants to see how his time away from the game has affected him once he starts practicing.

Cats picked for second

After five consecutive years of being voted to finish first in the regular season by the 10 Big East coaches, Villanova was edged by Seton Hall for the top spot in this year’s balloting by one point. Each team received five first-place votes.

Wildcats freshman Jeremiah Robinson-Earl was selected by the coaches as preseason freshman of the year. No Wildcat made first-team All-Big East, but guard Collin Gillespie and forward Jermaine Samuels earned second-team honors.