A viral bug continues to go through Villanova’s men’s basketball program, which has prompted head coach Jay Wright to go back to taking some steps similar to what he did last season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wright said as many as three of his players are questionable for Saturday’s Big 5 matchup against St. Joseph’s at Finneran Pavilion, and that they are staying off campus at the Inn at Villanova away from their healthier teammates.
“A couple of them haven’t been able to practice,” Wright said Friday after practice. “We might throw them in there for a minute and see how they feel. One of them could be totally out. We’re all over the place, to be honest with you. I don’t want to give anything away in case a guy is playing that is sick. By some time Saturday, we’ll make a decision.”
Wright said that while the illness is not COVID-related, he thought it “unbelievable how we just went right back into COVID mode.’”
“It’s not the flu and it’s not COVID, so we know no one’s in danger if they get it, so we don’t have to be as frightened if we make a mistake or something, or to practice,” he said. “If guys get it, they get it. They’re going to be sick and they’re going to be infectious. But we’re handling it like it’s COVID and trying to stop it.”
Freshman guard Jordan Longino is the only Villanova player who has not dressed for the previous two games because of illness.
Hawks coach Billy Lange said he had one player who played two weeks ago against Drexel and Monmouth who was “really sick.”
“He didn’t tell anybody because he wanted to battle through it,” the former Villanova assistant said, “but it greatly affected him in those two games. So I feel for these kids, particularly with what we’re battling now because with every sniffle, with every cough, you have to be really vigilant in how you approach that. So I feel for them in that case. We’ve been there but we’re not there right now.”
Both teams have won their last two games. The Wildcats (5-2, 2-0 Big 5) followed a loss to now-No. 1 Purdue with victories over La Salle and Penn, both at the Palestra. The Hawks (4-3, 0-0) have defeated Georgetown and Binghamton.
Lange, who was an assistant coach on Wright’s staff for five seasons, looks at Villanova film, sees Collin Gillespie and Jermaine Samuels back for a fifth year and says without reservation, “This is to me the best team he’s ever had.”
“What I’m saying might sound crazy but I say it as a guy that has somewhat corporate knowledge of what’s important there,” he said. “I’m just talking about the values of Villanova. Because of these guys’ age and the consistency of how long they’ve been in the program, this is the best team, and it strictly comes down to that.”
The Hawks have received excellent play from redshirt senior sharpshooter Taylor Funk, who averages 17.4 points per game and is shooting 52.8% from distance, and sophomore guard Jordan Hall. Hall is tied for second in assists in the Atlantic 10 with 5.9 per game, while averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 rebounds.
“One of the things about these Big 5 games and we know it, you look at Funk and Hall and they’re great players and they’ve had some huge games, and you know they can go off,” Wright said. “Funk had eight threes against (Georgetown) and Hall was unbelievable in that game, too, with eight assists.
“But you know in Big 5 games, a (Cameron) Brown or a (Erik) Reynolds can come off the bench and just go crazy on you. So we just kind of prepare where we know we’re going to have to adjust during the game.”
Once the most intense rivalry in the Big 5, the Wildcats and Hawks have mellowed a bit, maybe thanks to the familiarity of the two coaches with each other. But there’s still one thing Wright detests.
“It’s another Big 5 game, another crazy game, against another (former) assistant (coach), which I hate,” he said.