Fresh off a 40-point victory against overmatched Mount Saint Mary’s, No. 4 Villanova heads to UCLA for their first real test of the season. What type of team will Villanova be this year? Friday’s contest with the Bruins should help provide some insight.
The Wildcats rolled over Mount Saint Mary’s on Tuesday, beating them 91-51 with expected ease and skill. Beating a team from the Northeast Conference is one thing. Beating a UCLA program that is ranked No. 2 nationally and has won a record 11 NCAA championships is another, entirely.
On Tuesday, the Wildcats started Collin Gillespie, Jermaine Samuels, Brandon Slater, Justin Moore, and Eric Dixon. Caleb Daniels also saw the court for 20 minutes. With this in mind, let’s break down the 2021-22 Wildcats roster from returning stars to key role players to impact newcomers.
PG Collin Gillespie, Graduate Student
The point guard is back for a fifth season due to the COVID-19 eligibility extension and was picked as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year. Gillespie tore his ACL prior to the NCAA tournament last season, which makes the prospect of him returning even more exciting. He averaged 14 points and 4.6 assists a game as Villanova amassed a 16-4 record in games he played. “Another year older gives him more experience on being a leader,” Associate head coach George Halcovage said. “He’s even gotten better, because it’s another year in the program.”
SF/PF Jermaine Samuels, Graduate Student
Another starter returning for his graduate year, Samuels’ versatility and leadership will be integral to a team that lost Jeremiah Robinson-Earl early to the NBA. Last season, Samuel’s play was a good barometer for Villanova’s success, as in three of Villanova’s seven losses, Samuels was held to four points or less. The forward averaged 12 points and 6.4 rebounds per game, but consistency will be the next step for the Massachusetts native. “I feel great,” Samuels said. “I’m really excited, and it’s going to be cool to see where we are as a team.”
SG Justin Moore, Junior
Justin Moore’s potential erupted into proven talent last year, as he emerged as a key player in the starting rotation. Moore averaged a whopping 32.8 minutes a game, averaging 12.9 points and 4.1 rebounds, and proving himself an asset on both ends of the court. For Moore, this could be a breakthrough year, as the junior is expected to join the leadership group. With Samuels and Gillespie graduating at the competition of the season, Moore will have big shoes to fill, although his career-high 27 points in the opener was a positive indicator. “[Moore] has really taken the reins of leadership for us,” Halcovage said.
SG Caleb Daniels, Redshirt Senior
Daniels had an impressive debut season last year after transferring in from Tulane, emerging as a dependable starter and leading the Wildcats in three-pointers made (44). Daniels averaged 9.6 points last season and is still working his way back to tip-top shape after missing an extended amount of practice time with myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle caused by COVID-19.
PF Brandon Slater, Senior
Slater’s role has steadily grown under Jay Wright, his minutes increasing each year he’s been on campus. Last season, in a little less than 17 minutes per game, Slater averaged nearly a steal a game and shot 42% from deep (10-24). The 6′7′' forward is poised for an uptick in minutes and it will be interesting to see if he can step into that fifth starter spot and become an impact player on both ends of the floor.
PF Eric Dixon, Redshirt Sophomore
Dixon will likely get the starting nod at the five, which has been a somewhat open and rotating position for Villanova. Establishing a strong center would make the Wildcats more of a threat, and Dixon’s 6-foot-8, 255-lb build could position him well to do just that. The redshirt sophomore appeared in 21 games last season and averaged 3 ppg.
While Villanova has an impressive starting lineup, its greatest asset might actually be the talent and depth they have available off the bench. and a sort of security in the case of an emergency. This group will act as a security blanket, as if there is an injury or someone is not playing up to standard, there is really no reason to panic as Wright has recruited talented depth at each position.
In addition to the returning Chris Arcidiacono at point guard, is freshman Angelo Brizzi, who will likely take over Gillespie’s spot next year. It’s unlikely that he will get a ton of minutes at the point with Gillespie back, but we might see him here and get a peek at what the future of Villanova could look like. The bench also features Bryan Antoine, who was highly recruited out of high school but has struggled with injuries since arriving on campus. Antoine will be out for at least the first few weeks of the season due to an injury to his patella tendon in his knee.
Other incoming freshmen include forwards Nnanna Njoku and Trey Patterson (who actually enrolled in the spring) and guard Jordan Longino, all of whom were ranked as top 100 recruits by ESPN. This will likely be a year for them to learn through watching their veteran teammates.
According to Halcovage, Villanova’s staff is looking for these new players to show that they can play a well-rounded game. “We know that they’re all talented offensive players,” he said. “We come in knowing that but our expectation is going to be that they come in and play hard and set a tone defensively when they get that opportunity.”
This depth will serve Villanova well this season, and the balance of youth and experience should bode well for the Wildcats. Samuels, as a veteran, is excited about what the new players will bring.
“You never know what may happen during the season, and they need to be ready, and they also make us better,” Samuels said. “So just supporting them, making sure they’re confident and that their headspace is clear, and supporting them every step of the way.”