Villanova always has been known as a destination for guards during Jay Wright’s 18 seasons as head coach. Wright regularly has played three guards, and on occasion four at the same time, all of them capable of shooting the three or driving to the hoop.
Now that the Wildcats, ranked 10th in the preseason, are on the eve of a new year, the coach might be tempted to put up signs along the Main Line that read, “Guards wanted.”
Maybe the situation isn’t that dire, but Wright doesn’t have the numbers of previous years at the position.
Five-star freshman Bryan Antoine is recovering from shoulder surgery and won’t be able to practice until late November at the earliest. Holdover point guard Collin Gillespie broke his nose in early October and just returned to full practice last week. He will start in Tuesday night’s season opener against Army but will be wearing a protective mask.
That has meant more time at the point in the preseason for freshman Justin Moore, primarily a shooting guard in high school. Saddiq Bey, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward, performed ballhandling duties in an exhibition game last month at Southern California.
“We are a little short at the guard spot,” Wright said. “So it means Saddiq’s going to have to play a little more at guard. Justin is going to have to play more, obviously. Cole [Swider, a 6-9 forward)] is going to have to play more there. So we’re going to be really big, not really the front line, but the wings. We’ve got to figure that out.”
The 6-foot-4 Moore seems to have figured it out. In the Oct. 27 scrimmage at North Carolina, which consisted of four periods totaling 54 minutes, Moore scored 39 points and drilled nine three-point baskets in 12 attempts.
“Basketball today is definitely focused on versatility,” Moore said. “so I feel like me being able to play the one, making plays for others, bringing the ball up the court, being able to score off the ball, defending different positions, I think it helps the team.”
Bey said he has no problems handling the ball, recalling that when he was a 5-9 freshman guard in high school, “I was planning to play guard my whole life.”
“We’re trying to expand our games and show our versatility,” he said. “The constant work that we do here, we really pride ourselves on our skill development. Every day, I’m out here just trying to be the best player I can be.”
Player versatility will be big for the Wildcats early while Wright works with his young team — there are eight freshmen and sophomores — seeking improvement on offensive execution, rebounding, and defense.
Some other thoughts on the Wildcats:
Top scorer: The Cats figure to be a balanced team capable of getting points from any position, but freshman forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl showed immediately that he can score, putting up 20 points in the USC exhibition, and 16 against North Carolina.
Best defensive player: Junior forward Jermaine Samuels has the size, quickness, and versatility to guard multiple positions on the court, and he is a very good rebounder and shot-blocker.
MVP: With the most playing time among the players on Villanova’s roster, Gillespie is a primary leader. He also plays hard-nosed defense, draws charges, dives with reckless abandon, and hits the three-point shot.
Top newcomer: In addition to scoring and rebounding, Robinson-Earl played in a big-time program at IMG Academy and is a veteran of international competition, so it doesn’t appear as if the spotlight that follows the Wildcats will be too much for him.
The schedule: Villanova will get an early test Nov. 13, traveling to No. 18 Ohio State in a Gavitt Games matchup, and No. 3 Kansas will visit to the Wells Fargo Center on Dec. 21. The Wildcats also could meet 16th-ranked Baylor in the Myrtle Beach Invitational in November. Their schedule in the ultra-competitive Big East will begin at home Dec. 30 vs. No. 19 Xavier.